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Collaborative Learning Online And In The Socially Distanced Classroom

Cut-out paper-chain of children holding handsWhat is collaborative language learning?

One of the most satisfying experiences that I have as an instructor is when I have my class make pairs or groups and then, after a few moments, I hear lively chatter. Moving around the classroom, I hear students using the vocabulary and structures that we studied in class. Yet they are doing more than just reciting what they learned in this lesson; they are combining the learning goals of the lesson with the language that they already know in a personalized and creative manner. A casual observer might think that this was break-time or an opportunity for the class to relax. But while I hope they are having fun, I know that they are actually hard at work. This is the culminating activity that we have worked towards together as a class. It is collaborative learning in action.

The key principles of collaborative learning

Having students work in pairs and groups of three or four are key strategies in the collaborative learning approach. Together, they practice the target language and to establish meaning, in a carefully sequenced set of achievable, unintimidating, activities. From our own experience, we know the value of learning by doing. This is even more critical in language learning, where the production of new sounds, new words and new structures is so vital. To be a successful language user, it is not enough to know; students have to adapt their knowledge to create meaning and communicate with someone else. Increasing our students’ opportunities to do something meaningful in class is one of the main aims of collaborative learning.

So, what is the role of the teacher in all of this?

At the start of a sequence of activities, for example, when presenting the target language of the lesson, the method of instruction can look quite traditional; often the teacher speaks and the students listen. After the presentation phase, however, the class transitions in a way that makes the learners, and not the teacher, the focus of the class. The first step often focuses on accuracy. In pairs or groups, the students manipulate the language mechanically. They learn from each other. Crucially, the teacher moves from group to group, evaluating the progress, and correcting the learners as necessary. The subsequent activities in the sequence encourage the learners step-by-step to use the target language in more creative and open-ended ways, with activities that encourage students to combine what they have just learned with the language that they already know.

The collaborative approach is highly motivating because it allows students to communicate about things that matter to them, to be more active, and indeed, more successful learners.

Collaborative learning in the COVID-19 era

Only a few short months ago, the notion that teleconferencing technology would become an essential tool in our professional lives would have been unimaginable. Along with my colleagues, I have struggled to adjust to this new reality. What, now, are the most effective classroom management techniques? Does the collaborative language learning approach even make any sense?

When we went into lockdown in New York City, where I teach, my classroom practice probably resembled a traditional, lecture approach. Eventually, however, I was able to adapt what I typically did in a physical classroom to the virtual classroom.

4 key ways to conduct collaborative language learning in cyberspace:

  1. At the start of the lesson, I present the goals of the class and the target language. I could share my screen, where I could have a PowerPoint presentation, but instead I send my presentation materials to the students earlier. Since unconscious lip reading is such an important part of listening comprehension, I want my students to be able to see my face full size. Instead of sending a file of slides, I use the screen capture feature of QuickTime to record my computer screen and voice at the same time. (I am a low-tech person, but I have found it easy to use). Students, therefore, get a video of my presentation, which they can watch before or after class, multiple times.
  2. Most teleconferencing tools allow the host to make breakout groups. I set these up before class. It is a simple thing to conduct pair work and group work using this feature, and as in a physical classroom, I can monitor them as they work. One added advantage is that my students can video their work, (using any screen capture tool) which we can use later for student self-analysis or peer-reviewing.
  3. Many of the activities that my students do in the physical classroom involve completing charts, matching, and checking items, together. Now, I have students take a photo of their work using their smartphone, and then share it with me and their classmates using email, social media, or our school Learning Management System (LMS). We do collaborative writing activities in a similar way.
  4. In a physical classroom, I can’t imagine teaching in a room without a whiteboard. Almost all teleconferencing tools have a whiteboard feature. I find this feature cumbersome. It takes me a lot of time to write and then erase the digital whiteboard. When teaching online, I find it much more effective to use the chat function when I want my students to see something in writing. For more extended notes or hand-drawn charts, I much prefer to use a small, handheld physical whiteboard, which I hold up to my laptop screen. Some students take photos of this with their smartphone, just like they do in my regular classroom, while others take screenshots.

The Hybrid Classroom

What will happen when we move to a hybrid classroom model, where we combine socially distanced in-class learning and distance learning? Can we have collaborative learning when students must be apart from each other?

Before the pandemic, I frequently had students take photos of their work with their phones, which they posted on a social media platform, and I then projected to the class. Now, I will have them share with each other, in socially distanced pairs and groups.

What activities to do online or in the socially distanced classroom will be an important decision. Right now, I am planning to present new language (vocabulary and grammar) online, in the manner that I described earlier. Writing activities, including collaborative ones, can be successfully conducted online, as can listening activities – my students can access the content on their mobile devices. But since speaking is by its very nature performative, I will prioritize the physical class time for open-ended pair work, group discussions, and role-playing. But at a distance.

 

For more practical tips, and two free activities for running pair work and group work with adult learners, visit our collaborative learning page!

Get Expert Advice On Collaborative Learning


Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. He has given several webinars for Oxford University Press on how to use smart devices and social media to encourage collaborative learning including The potential of smart devices, How to use mobile technology in class and How learners can use mobile technology outside of classFind these recordings in our webinar library.


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The Complete Professional Development Guide: Books You Need To Read In 2020

man reading bookTeaching during COVID-19 has challenged us to adapt quickly and learn on the go this year! But how much time have you spent on your own professional development, and how prepared do you feel for the start of next term? As the holidays approach there is a sense of relief as we get to have a well-deserved break, but it is also a chance to get ready for the new term, whatever it may bring. To help you prepare for every scenario, we’ve created an essential reading list with English language teachers in mind! Explore the pros and cons and get practical tips for teaching online, prepare to assess your students in new ways, and learn to prioritise your own wellbeing. We’ve got you covered with best-sellers and the latest professional development books and papers written by ELT experts.

 

Our Professional Development Book Of The Year

Teacher Wellbeing book cover

Teachers… have the power in their own hands to make things better and to nurture and enhance their own wellbeing. This is a welcome message at any time, but perhaps most of all now when there is so much uncertainty in the world.

– English Teaching Professional

Teacher Wellbeing

Our book of the year serves as a practical guide to help individual teachers promote and nurture their wellbeing. Discover effective tips and strategies to help you meet your needs, and improve your wellbeing by finding techniques that work for you. You’ll also find tips to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, and nurture your personal and professional relationships.

 

Three Professional Development Best Sellers

Bestselling professional development book covers

  • Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching: This award-winning book explores key areas of educational and social psychology and considers their relevance to language teaching. Learn learners’ and teachers’ beliefs about how a subject should be learned and taught, relationships with others, the role of emotions in learning, and more…
  • How Languages are Learned 4th edition: Prize-winning How Languages are Learned shares how language learning theory works in the classroom and provides you with practical techniques and activities developed from research. Perfect for new and experienced practising teachers.
  • Teaching Young Language Learners 2nd edition: A clear introduction to teaching young learners. It covers child development, L1 and L2 learning, vocabulary and grammar, and more by combining theory and practice in an accessible way. It draws on up-to-date international research and classroom practice.

 

Support For Teaching Online

  • Mobile Learning: Get clear guidance and essential support for using mobile devices in and outside the language classroom. Full of practical ideas and activities, it emphasizes the power of the mobile device as a tool for language learning.
  • Learning Technology: Learning Technology provides a clear guide to how teachers can introduce learning technology to the classroom. Explore different ways of putting it into practice, including virtual learning environments, social learning platforms, blended learning and the flipped classroom, mobile learning, and adaptive learning.

 

Recommended Assessment Books

  • Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers: This book presents a new approach to developing and using classroom-based language assessments. The approach is based on current theory and practice in the field of language assessment and on an understanding of the assessment needs of teachers. Split into four parts, this book is the ultimate practical guide to classroom-based language assessment, with advice that can be applied in any classroom setting – both real and virtual! A professional development must-read!
  • Focus on Assessment: This book develops your ability to design, implement, and evaluate language assessment in your classroom, helping you relate the latest research and pedagogy to your own teaching context. Explore the multiple roles teachers play in language assessment such as ensuring a positive assessment experience and promoting learner autonomy, and improve your assessment competence with activities that help you to apply assessment theory to your own classroom.

 

Recommended Vocabulary Books

  • How Vocabulary is LearnedHow Vocabulary Is Learned discusses the major issues that relate to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. Written by leading voices in the field of second language acquisition, the book evaluates a wide range of practical activities designed to help boost students’ vocabulary learning, starting with ‘Which words should be learned?’…
  • Focus on Vocabulary Learning: Explore teaching vocabulary to language learners aged 5-18. Discover the considerable challenges of learning the vocabulary of a new language from a range of perspectives, and become equipped to teach with practical solutions. Find a rich variety of useful activities and examples from real classrooms, and ‘spotlight studies’ of important research, that link theory to practice.

 

ELT Position Papers

Our position papers provide expert advice and guidance on the burning issues shaping English Language Teaching today. Download them for free and you’ll also receive exclusive training and resources for your classroom.

ELT Position Paper covers

  • Global Skills:  Creating Empowered 21st Century Learners: Help every learner develop the skills they need for success in a fast-changing modern world! Get expert advice and discover the five global skills clusters that prepare learners for lifelong success and fulfilment.
  • Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000: The Most Important Words to Learn in English: Interested in expanding your learners’ vocabulary? Discover our core wordlist of all the most important words for learners to know! Deliver a well-founded vocabulary syllabus with confidence, and encourage independent vocabulary learning at home.
  • Inclusive Practices in English Language Teaching: Create an inclusive classroom, and make learning a positive experience for each and every learner. Discover expert advice to help you identify and support students with special educational needs, and pick up practical solutions for building an inclusive classroom environment.

Professional Development On The Go!

Download our free focus papers to access bite-sized insights and practical tips for the ELT classroom! Each paper is easy to use, and immediately useful, covering topics like:

  • Online Teaching
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Mediation
  • Oracy Skills
  • Managing Online Learning
  • And more!

 

Which new teaching skills are you trying this year?

Let us know in the comments below!

 


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Welcome to Camp ELT Online!

ELT Camp OnlineAre you planning to attend Camp this summer? Join us for the first-ever Camp ELT Online, where we’ll have five days of free webinars focusing on virtual teaching, with handouts, social media challenges, and opportunities to connect with other ELT teachers.

Oxford University Press experts from around the globe will offer guidance on building an engaging virtual or blended class in this interactive webinar series. Camp will start with the basics on setting up your technology and move through practical support on how to build a syllabus as well as engage and assess your students digitally before applying those strategies in the final sessions of the week.

Throughout the week, join us on Twitter using #CampELTOnline to participate in Camp challenges! Everyone is welcome to Camp, where teachers will connect with each other around the world and grow their ELT community.

Camp ELT Online Schedule

Choosing your platform and tools by Andy Barbiero & Charlotte Murphy

June 22, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

The first steps to teaching online involve identifying what you need to successfully teach your students and how to effectively use free videoconferencing tools or school-provided LMS systems to teach your ELT learners.

Planning your syllabus and adapting to changes by Sandra Borges & Gabriella Havard

June 23, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

Even if you’re teaching the same classes, starting a new semester in the current circumstances requires a fresh look at your approach to pacing and assignments – and allowing yourself flexibility to adapt when you need to.

Engaging and assessing your students online by Sarah Rogerson & Christopher Sheen

June 24, 2020, 1:00 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

Building a community where students can be active learners online involves new types of student engagement and continuous assessment. Together, we’ll discuss types of student engagement and ways to incorporate each into the classroom, as well as how to build assessment in at every stage.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Step Forward, 2nd edition by Philip Haines

June 25, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the first session, we’ll discuss how Step Forward, our standards-aligned course for adult learners, can be used in virtual classes.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Q: Skills for Success, 3rd edition by Paul Woodfall

June 25, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the second session, we’ll talk about the various digital components of Q: Skills for Success and how they work together.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Picture Dictionary, 3rd edition by Harcourt Settle

June 26, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the first session of the day, we’ll explore ideas to bring the Oxford Picture Dictionary into virtual classes as a supplement for adult learners.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Online Placement Test and Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, 10th edition by Diana Lea and Sarah Rogerson

June 26, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the second session, we’ll talk about resources to place your students and how to use the OALD for general English and academic classes.

 

Join us for Camp ELT Online from June 22-26, 2020!

Register for Camp ELT Online


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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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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.