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Girls and Autism: Tips and Activities to Support Your Learners

group of girls and boys at school

What is autism? You may or may not have taught individuals in your English language teaching classrooms with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is linked to brain development and can affect the way learners socialise, communicate, and behave.

Did you know? Many girls go undiagnosed with autism or are diagnosed later in life because they present differently to boys. By this, I mean they behave in a different way that may cover up the signs. For boys, their autism is often externally expressed, whereas girls tend to conceal or internalise what is worrying them.

 

Masking or camouflaging: what do they mean?

When a girl ‘masks’ or ‘camouflages’ she essentially modifies her behaviour. This might be in an attempt to fit in with her peers, for example copying the behaviour or voice of a classmate, in order to be similar to the group. It may also be her way of hiding her autism or the anxiety she is feeling in order to appear calm on the surface. This means girls can spend a lot of time covering up their emotions, which must be extremely exhausting (and as teachers we certainly know how this feels!)

In fact, girls with autism are often very good at making eye contact and holding conversations, which you don’t typically expect with autism. And unlike boys, their special interest subjects tend to be similar to their ‘neurotypical’ peers, for example horses or boy bands, making it difficult at times to spot autistic traits.

 

A few tips for including learners with autism: 

1) Listen

Every girl (and boy) with autism is different. They often say their brains are wired differently so they may learn in unconventional ways. It is important to remember that what works for one learner might not necessarily work for another.

2) Support

Statistically, learners with special educational needs are more likely to develop mental health issues. As we know, there are a multitude of pressures on young girls, so openly discussing mental health and managing anxiety is essential.

3) Strengthen

Girls with autism tend to struggle with self-worth and self-belief. Helping girls become aware of their sensory issues and emotions and how to regulate these helps them understand themselves and others.

4) Talk, talk, talk…

As teachers, we’re pretty good at this one! In order to overcome the lack of knowledge in this area, we need to discuss autism. We need to speak to colleagues and parents/carers, search for and share information, but most importantly we need to talk to our students and learn from them.

 

Practical activities (expanded from Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs)

REMEMBER: Not every activity works for every student, it’s important to get to know your learners and understand what works best for them.

1) You’re the expert

Ask students to prepare a presentation on their special interest subject. Ask the rest of the class to ask questions. If learners don’t feel comfortable presenting to the class, why not get them to video and edit a short clip? Or run a Facebook Live, you could direct the conversation, but this may be less daunting for those who are anxious as they can join from elsewhere.

2) Name the feeling

Make pairs of cards with 1) photos of people expressing different feelings (according to students’ age and ability and 2) cards with the words that best describe the feelings.

Older students can play this game as ‘pelmanism’.

3) Pelmanism: Create pairs of cards where one card has a picture of a vocabulary item, and the other has the written word. Students place the cards face down on the table and take it in turns trying to find a matching pair by turning over two cards at a time. If players find a match, they keep it and have another go. If they don’t, they turn the cards face down again. Older students can practise homophones or homonyms, or match verbs with their tense forms.

 

Bonus activity: Tell me a story

Social stories and/or comic strips are a great way to engage learners. They can help children with autism in a number of ways, from teaching them how to behave in certain situations to developing their social skills. Why not get your students to draw or design stories of their own?

 

Want to find out more about autism and special educational needs? Get your hands on our Inclusive Practices position paper:

Download the position paper

 


References

  • Autism.org.uk.(2020) Autism Support – Leading UK Charity – National Autistic Society [online]. Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk
  • Carpenter, B, Happé, F, and Egerton, J. (2019) Girls and Autism: Educational, Family and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge
  • Delaney, M. (2016) Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs. 1st ed: Oxford University Press
  • Sutherland, R, Hodge, A, Bruck, S, Costley, D, Klieve, H (2017) Parent-reported differences between school-aged girls and boys on the autism spectrum. Volume: 21 issue 6: 785-794.

 

Leanne Atherton is a further education lecturer with experience of teaching both in the UK and internationally. She qualified in post 16 education at City of Bath College and has ELT experience teaching young learners in Thailand and aboriginal students in Australia. She holds a TEFL qualification, a PCGE PCET and is currently studying for her Masters of Education (Special Educational Needs) in Oxford.


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Rigor, Routines and the Real (Global) Skills

The five Global SkillsAdvanced-level English language instruction focuses on helping adults achieve the language proficiency they need to transition out of their English language lessons onto their educational or career paths, engage with their communities, and advocate successfully for themselves and their families. One of the gifts of teaching at this level is the ability to communicate the adult education principles at the heart of our instructional design.

We can overtly demonstrate respect for learners’ prior knowledge and build upon that knowledge to address essential questions that transcend basic skills. We can provide the tasks and projects that support self-directed and rigorous inquiry alongside the development of language strategies that are critical to learners’ successful language skill development.[i]  We can also share evidence of the direct connection between learners’ future goals, 21st-century adult life, and essential language strategies along with an array of global skills (i.e., communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being, and digital literacies.)

Routines and Rigor

Of course, even with all the opportunities and advantages of the advanced-level class, instructors have the universal challenge of finding the time to plan for—and teach—units of instruction with rigorous, relevant, high-interest, skill- and strategy-building lessons. One workaround is to look at task-types and routines that naturally incorporate a number of the language strategies and global skills advanced learners need. Routines that accompany task types help learners be intentional in their use of skills and strategies and, with a few tweaks, a routine can also provide additional rigor.

Consider a lecture and note-taking task. This type of task typically includes a wealth of language strategies, e.g., focusing on the speaker’s opening and closing statements to identify the gist of the lecture, using clues in the oral text to identify key ideas for note-taking, paraphrasing information in notes, summarizing the speaker’s ideas, and using the content of the lecture to address a question or problem. This task process is rigorous in its own right. However, if we add the routine of comparing and clarifying the lecture notes with a classmate through a Turn and Talk, we can increase the rigor of that routine by requiring that learners:

  1. use academic language during the exchange,
  2. reach consensus on the most important points in the lecture, and
  3. cite evidence to support their view,

and now we’ve incorporated opportunities to use English to demonstrate collaboration, clarification, consensus building, and critical thinking skills—real skills for the world outside the classroom.

A research-and-report task is another example that incorporates numerous language strategies, e.g., previewing complex text to determine if it meets the reader’s needs, scanning text for necessary information, note-taking to record sources, outlining or organizing ideas for an oral report, using intonation to help the listener identify important information, etc.  Not surprisingly, this task requires critical thinking to select, analyze, and evaluate information. Some routines that would increase learners’ use of other global skills and heighten the rigor of the task include having learners:

  1. take on roles requiring decision making,  team management, and resource management,
  2. use a checklist as they research to confirm the validity of their sources and build information literacy skills, or
  3. use a mobile device to record, rehearse, and upload team reports to increase digital skills.students in class asking questions

Rigor and Scaffolds

Of course, all classes have learners at different levels of proficiency. Even if the class level is fairly homogeneous, learners experiencing a task or routine for the first time will need support to be successful. The following scaffolds are just some of the ways to support learners as they engage with the rigorous requirements of a task:

  • provide graphic organizers with prompts and/or some sections filled in to help learners organize their thinking,
  • post charts with academic language stems and frames for use in discussions and writing tasks,
  • create checklists with the task instructions for learners to reference as they work,
  • reveal the steps of a task in stages rather than all at once, and
  • show examples of the task product created in previous classes.

Routines and Novelty

Using a repertoire of routines and task-types can streamline planning and allows advanced learners to regularly cycle through the skills and strategies they need, rather than approaching global skill development as a “one and done” process.  When we add rigor to our routines and tasks, we ensure a connection between the academic, civic, and work-place routines and tasks our advanced learners will perform outside the classroom. The rigor in the routines and tasks gives learners a global skills “work out.”

Even with these benefits, some instructors might equate routine with a lack of novelty—knowing that novelty is an important factor in learning.[iii] The trick is to employ tasks and routines to help learners engage with an array of essential questions, complex and high-interest texts and media, and thought-provoking prompts. This juxtaposition of rigorous routines and complex content encourages learners to make novel connections between ideas: the learners and content provide the source of the novelty essential to motivation and retention.[iv]

Advanced level learners have a wide variety of transition goals. When they have the opportunity to demonstrate and refine global skills such as strategic thinking, planning, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, alongside their language skill development, they are more likely to see the connection between their classwork and their future goals. When they engage with rigorous routines and tasks, they are better prepared to apply their global and language skills in the complex world outside their classroom’s walls.

In her webinar “Picture This: Promoting English Language Learners’ Access to Online Language Teaching” on April 1, Jayme will discuss tools to teach your students online and how to incorporate global skills.

Register for the webinar

 



Jayme Adelson-Goldstein is a teacher educator and curriculum consultant. Her work focuses on supporting adult English language instructors with rigorous and contextualized task-based, problem-based, and/or project-based instruction. She is currently working with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on The Skills That Matter project. Jayme’s publications include The Oxford Picture Dictionary and Step Forward. She also hosts the podcast Oxford Adult ESL Conversations. 


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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.


Colin spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.


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.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


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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5 Easy Classroom Activities Involving Movie Trailers

Teenagers watching a movieAlmost thirty years ago, when I first started teaching, the use of feature films in the classroom was considered a ‘Friday afternoon treat’ – something to give the students as a reward and, perhaps in some cases, to give teachers a chance to catch up on some marking! Some schools used movies randomly and at inappropriate levels, meaning students often got little to nothing in terms of language learning.

Having originally studied Film at university I was always keen to use movies in class, and some years later I ran a series of workshops for teachers on the use of video in the classroom (‘video’ gives an idea of exactly how long ago that was) and how to maximise learning opportunities. I offered a selection of lesson ideas I’d used to good effect in my own classes and now 25 years later, with increased online access to materials that are often not subject to copyright issues within an educational context, I’m sharing a few of those ideas here!

Why use movie trailers?

These ideas will concentrate on movie trailers specifically as promotional tools studios use to get audiences interested in films coming soon. The interest level in trailers is unquestionable – being among the top five forms of video content viewed by users (as an example, Marvel’s Avengers Endgame trailer had 129,527,344 views at the time of writing).

You can find trailers on YouTube or sites like iTunes Movie Trailers. A typical trailer will be between 2 and 3 minutes long, although teaser trailers – those released sometime before the movie’s planned release – will be shorter, and typically give less of the plot away, aiming to create a general mood instead (these can be useful in their own right).

You should ensure you are not breaking any copyright laws in your use of movies in class and be aware of the suitability of the subject matter for the students you are teaching. Note that the majority of trailers will be suitable for class use, but ‘red band trailers’ are those which feature violence and/ or abusive language.

1) Pick a Movie

If you do show movies in your school, as part of a ‘movie club’ or similar, trailers can provide an excellent opportunity to decide what movies are shown, while encouraging students’ analytical and presentation skills!

Method: Show three trailers. Students divide into three groups according to which movie they would prefer to see. Within each group, they decide what it is about their choice that appeals to them. A help guide could be provided with keywords to assist them: words like genre/ stars/ director/ themes etc. After half an hour, selected representatives present their choice reasons to the broader group. After presentations, the choice is put to a class vote.

2) Film Pitch

This is a more ‘drama’ based version of the ‘pick a movie’ idea and uses the concept of familiar social events such as the Cannes Film Festival etc. where filmmakers will try to sell their films to would-be studio buyers.

Method: Show a trailer and ask the students to consider it along the lines of stars/ genre/ look and feel/ what they saw. Invite students to write a ‘pitch’ for the movie, as if they were the maker. Their job is to pick out the most positive points about it and why people would want to see it. The second group of two/ three students will act as a ‘movie producer panel’ who can buy a movie. Their job is to decide whether they would buy the film in question, based on the quality of the presenters’ persuasive powers.

3) Red Light/ Green Light

This is a variation on Film Pitch, which doesn’t even need a trailer!

Method: Students in small groups come up with their own ideas for a film, and present a 2-minute ‘pitch’ of it to a panel of students who will decide whether their ‘studio’ will give it the green light (make it), or a red light (turn it down).

4) What Happens Next

The point of a trailer is to give a feel for what the movie will be about, without giving the whole plot away (some do this better than others). They often use ‘tropes’ – a movie language shorthand which allows an audience to see there is enough in the movie that reminds them of things they have previously liked without being ‘exactly the same’. If you have students who are interested and watch movies in their own time and depending on your class subject, this can work as a fun ‘warmer’ exercise.

Method: Show a trailer and ask students what they think will happen in the movie. Students can work in pairs or individually and either fill in a response or call out suggestions (from experience these can be humorous or serious, depending on your class…). If you are using an old movie then you can tell them who was closest (although they may have seen it), if it’s a new film then there will be a period of waiting before the answer is revealed…

5) My Favorite Genre:

… a fun self-study preparation/ classroom presentation project for classes who have an interest in movies.

Method: explain to students what a ‘genre’ means in film terms. This can be a fun classroom warmer to encourage students to take part: in the past I’ve put genre headings up on a board (e.g. Western, Sci-Fi, Horror etc.), and provided post-it notes of terms or words such as ‘Ghost’, ‘Horse’, ‘Time-travel’ etc. then asked students to put them under the appropriate genre. Students can then add their own elements under the genre they think is most fitting.

To extend this ask students to think about what their favourite genre is and tell them to find a trailer which they believe demonstrates this genre. Students can do this in their own time and present it to their classmates, pointing out what ‘genre’ elements it uses. This can lead to interesting discussions around cross-genres and storytelling techniques.

How do you use movies in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

 


 

Simon Bewick worked in ELT for 25 years and has watched movies for nearly 50. He is the author of several short story collections for both adults and young adults, available on Amazon. He writes about films, literature and culture on his website bewbob.com


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The Complete Guide to Running a Blended Learning Course

Blended learning - students working together on laptopsWhat 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? Read my complete guide to help you prepare, set-up and run a blended learning course:

 

Download the guide

 

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.