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Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges

teenagers-tablets-learningNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She is the author of several prize-winning methodology books about technology in EFL, and her most recent book is Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). Today, she joins us to preview her webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’, on March 15 and 16.

Using Mobile Devices with Students Effectively in the Classroom

Do you already use mobile devices with your students in the classroom? If not, would you like to? Perhaps your students use their devices regularly during your classes, or perhaps you’re just starting out – either way, there are several key things to keep in mind to make sure that things go smoothly.

Pedagogical considerations

First off, ask yourself why you’d like students to use mobile devices in your class. Answers might include: it adds variety to my class, in motivates my students, it enables us to do activities we couldn’t otherwise do in class, it supports their learning. It’s important to have a clear reason for mobile based tasks, and that these enhance the learning experience. You want to avoid using technology just for technology’s sake. Good, meaningful task design is key here, with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims. You’ll find some examples of mobile based classroom activities on my blog here and here.

Good, meaningful task design is key… with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims.

Logistical considerations

Of course, if you’d like your students to use mobile devices in your classroom, they will need access to devices! There are a couple of options. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and whatever your teaching context, your students are likely to have a mobile phone. This may be a smart phone, or it may be a simpler ‘feature’ phone (e.g. with photo and audio capabilities). Your tasks will need to be designed around the devices your students have. For example, if your students have feature phones, you can design tasks in which they need to take photos (e.g. of examples of English that they find in signs/restaurant menus/billboards outside of the classroom), or audio recordings (e.g. of spoken pair work, interviews, etc.). Students using their own devices is known as BYOD (bring your own device). You can find one of my articles about BYOD for the language classroom, with some activity suggestions, here.

But perhaps you teach younger learners, who don’t have their own mobile phones. In this case, some schools invest in a ‘class set’ of devices – that is, a set of 10 or 15 tablets, which can be stored in the school. Teachers then book out the class set for their students to use in pairs during class. The class set option is also effective if you are concerned about some of your students having devices, and some not, or about some students having the latest most expensive devices and others not. Finally, there is a ‘hybrid’ option. Here students can choose whether to use their own devices, or one of the school’s class set devices.

Technical considerations

These include having a decent Wi-Fi connection for your students in your school/classroom, especially if you want them to do activities or use an app that requires an Internet connection. Also, if you’d like your students to use a specific app for an activity, and you are using a BYOD approach, you will need to ensure that your chosen app is ‘cross platform’ – that is, no matter what sort of operating system (OS) your students have (Apple, Android, Windows…), they can all use the same app. If the app is not available for all OS, then you need to recommend similar apps for each OS, so that students can carry out the task no matter what device they have.

Classroom considerations

Teacher are often concerned about classroom management with mobile devices. For example, how to ensure that students don’t get distracted by their mobile devices, and start messaging their friends, or checking Facebook, instead of doing the task you have set? Setting engaging tasks with a short time frame, and ensuring that students need to actually produce something with their devices, can help mitigate this. Another concern that teachers have, especially with learners under the age of 18, is the inappropriate use of devices. For example, teachers worry about cyber-bullying, or students accessing inappropriate content in class, or taking unsolicited photos of classmates or the teacher and publishing these online. These are legitimate concerns. If your school intends to use mobile devices with learners under 18, it’s important that a robust digital policy is put in place beforehand. Parental permission needs to be sought for the use of students’ own devices, and many schools include an acceptable use policy (AUP) as part of their schoolwide digital policy. The good news is that you don’t need to create your AUP from scratch. There are plenty of excellent examples available online that you can adapt – simply search for ‘acceptable use policy’.

… set engaging tasks with a short timeframe, and ensure students need to actually produce something…

These are just some of the areas that teachers need to keep in mind when using mobile devices with their learners. Come along to my webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’ on the 15th or 16th of March, where we will discuss these and other issues in more depth. We’ll also look at some more activities that you can do with mobile devices in class!

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Making the Impossible Possible – Q&A session


shutterstock_299889014Last month, we hosted Gareth Davies’ webinar,
‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’. During the webinar and on his previous blog post, we called for questions for Gareth that we could ask him post-webinar, to delve deeper into creative writing in the EFL classroom. Here’s the full transcript of this interview:

What is your opinion on teachers writing a sample text for students to get used to writing?

This is a good question, reading and writing go hand in hand and there is evidence to suggest that the more reading a student does the better their writing will become, so in general having as much exposure to different texts can only help students.  Having or not having a model is often the cited as the major difference between process and product writing. In process writing the students study a sample text and use it as a model and is a good approach for students who are preparing for an exam or who need to write formulaic emails or reports. However, sometimes I think this can impose restrictions on students. So if I am doing a creative writing exercise I might avoid giving students a model at the start of the activity, to allow their creative juices to flow.

Have you ever tried to channel the positive energy of these creative writing tasks and turn them into positive academic writing performance?

How could we use these ideas to writing for exams? I mean, IELTS, Cambridge exams?

Thanks for this question, let me try to give you an analogy. When someone trains to run a marathon, they don’t only run long distances. They do some gym work, some short runs, and perhaps they change their diet. For me it is the same with preparing for an exam. You need to do some exam practice, but you also need to hone your skills and prepare in different ways. Creative writing tasks can allow students to practise their writing in an interesting way, but they are still using the skills they will need for academic purposes. When I was teaching an EAP course in the summer I did several storytelling and writing activities just to free the students up, and they found it very helpful.

How you would evaluate or share the poems?

This is a very interesting point. When I ask my students to do creative writing activities, I try to focus as much as possible on the content rather than the accuracy. I see it as a fluency activity. Therefore, on their first draft, I might comment on how the story or poem made me feel, how I enjoyed it, etc., and only point out errors where the meaning is confused. I might also ask the students to peer correct each other’s work and ask me if they are not sure about something. As for sharing their work I ask the students to decide if they are public or private, they mark the top of the paper. If they are public then I will ask them to read them out or put them on display. If the students have marked it as private then only I will look at it. With creative writing, it is often personal, I don’t think it is fair to share the students’ work if they are not ready.

What do you think of beginning with more concrete descriptive language?

In one of my previous webinars, I talked about the following activity, which looks at descriptive language.

Write a sentence on the board

e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.

Tell the student the boy was scared, ask them where they would put that word in that sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked up the stairs.

Now ask them how he walked up the stairs. Elicit an adverb and ask them where it goes in the sentence.

e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the stairs.

Next ask them to describe the stairs, (narrow? steep? dark?) and ask them where their adjective goes. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the dark stairs.

Finally, ask them to think of a different word for ‘walked’, (ran? climbed? tip-toed?)

e.g. The scared boy tip-toed quickly up the dark stairs.

Now it is time to edit. You’ve gone from a simple sentence to a much too complicated one. Which words leave the best impression on the reader, which are not needed?

 e.g. Perhaps you don’t need scared because ‘tip-toed’ and dark imply this.

Put the students into pairs and ask them to do the same for other adjectives, excited, happy, sad, angry etc.

You can help them with the words by translating or filling in gaps in their knowledge.

Which do you prefer? Poet or Teacher.

Actually, I love both and they are not that different. Both require you to plan and prepare carefully, both make you bring your personality to the work. Both encourage you to be creative. With both, you hope to leave a positive influence on your audience. And finally, with both sometimes things go wrong and you have to reassess and start again.


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Digital literacy: the missing piece for Adult ESL learners

shutterstock_373670722According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of jobs within the next decade will require some degree of technology skills. How can these skills be integrated in to English language programs? Kathy Harris explores the role of digital literacy with adult learners. Dr. Harris teaches in the MA TESOL program at Portland State University and also teaches literacy and low-level adult English Language Acquisition.

Think about the variety of your daily tasks that involve technology. Those tasks might include writing an email to a coworker, paying bills online, finding directions to a location, reading the academic calendar on your child’s school website, checking medical tests results in your eHealth portal, or reading an online manual for a new gadget you bought.  The list is long!

The adult learners in our English language programs need to do these things too. They need to be able to get accurate health information, communicate and collaborate using the Internet for school or work, communicate with their children’s schools, apply for jobs, among many other things. Traditionally, digital literacy has not been considered to be part of literacy in adult English language programs, but that is rapidly changing.

In the 21st century, learning English literacy includes literacy in digital contexts, or digital literacy.  Digital literacy includes the ability to use the Internet and other technologies to

  • Find, evaluate and organize information
  • Create and communicate information
  • Generate useful questions to solve problems
  • Share answers and solutions to problems

As we create classes and programs that meet our students’ needs, digital literacy needs to be included. One effective way to do that is to integrate digital literacy tasks right alongside literacy tasks in our classes, ideally doing the same type of task multiple times in different lessons or units.

For example, in a topic unit on health you might create a simple online form for learners to fill out for each lesson.  It is very easy to create online forms. Here is an example of a very simple online form that I made for a low-level ESL class in a unit on going to the doctor:

amir.png

The form was a follow up to reading the online book called Amir gets sick. Students are learning medical questions and medical vocabulary as well as having face-to-face roleplays with the questions and answers.  Creating the form took less than 5 minutes and was a great way for my students to practice the vocabulary and grammar that we had been learning, while also building digital literacy skills.

Google Forms is one free online survey tool that is easy to use. Here is a list of videos created for teachers to show them how to create and use Google Forms created by Richard Byrne in his blog FreeTech4Teachers.

There are many benefits to integrating digital tasks alongside related lessons.  It uses the same vocabulary and grammar as well as topic, so that only the digital format is new, making for a straight-forward learning situation.  The same type of activity is done multiple times it allows for the development of both task and technology expertise by the teacher and the students as well as the opportunity to work through and get past the inevitable glitches. Most of the activities described here can be done with computers, smartphones, or other digital devices.  If devices are limited, students can work in small groups sharing one device.

There are many digital literacy tasks that easily accompany English language lessons and units, including writing email messages or sending text messages, listening to related podcasts, reading the news online, creating short presentations, writing blog posts, creating digital stories, and many more.

searchFinding and evaluating information is a critical aspect of digital literacy. While many of us English language teachers use the Internet for searching, we don’t always consciously know the strategies that we are using. Henry (2006) provides a nice pneumonic for the strategies used in searching that is really helpful when integrating search activities into our English language instruction.  Like other types of digital literacy tasks, it is useful to have a search activity that is related to a lesson or unit that is alongside the other activities in the unit. That way the Internet search utilizes the same (or related) vocabulary, grammar structures, and topical information and only the actual Internet search task is new. Some examples include finding accurate local weather information, finding job information, locating a business, researching a health condition, comparing features and prices of an object or service, etc. Creating a search activity to accompany the units in a course can be an effective way to bring digital literacy skills into your classroom that creates opportunities to practice the digital skill of online searching while also providing practice using the language in the unit.

For more information on how to integrate digital literacy into English language instruction, there is a free online module for teachers on the topic here. You can equip students with the language they need for success with resources such as the Oxford Picture Dictionary. The brand new Third Edition has been updated with a section dedicated to Digital Literacy, and includes other relevant topics such as Cyber Safety, Information Technology and Internet Research. Find out more here.

 

References

Federal Communications Commission. (2010). Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan. Retrieved from http://www.broadband.gov/download-plan/

Henry, L. A. (2006). SEARCHing for an answer: The critical role of new literacies while reading on the Internet. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 614–627.

Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Henry, L. A. (2013). New literacies: A dual-level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction and assessment. In D. E. Alvermann, N. J. Unrau, & R. B. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (6th ed.; pp. 1150–1181). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015). Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Integrating technology. WIOA Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/integrating-technology.pdf


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Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing

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Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.

Writing’s a Chore?

When I was on a recent short-term teaching assignment in Northern Spain, I decided to ask my students to do some creative writing. I gave them some prompts and asked them to write a story. Far from being a joyous activity, the students rolled their eyes. There was a lot of grumbling and sighing and the finished versions were no more than four or five lines long. They had written stories, but they had not written creatively. Why did my students have such a negative reaction to writing and how could I encourage them to enjoy it?

garethdavies1

Why is writing an essential 21st century communication device? Well, take a brief look around in any town in any country you will see people hunched over their phones or tablets or laptops sending texts, emails or WeChat messages. Writing is in vogue. But it is more than that. It is argued that encouraging students to create in a foreign language helps them to internalise it more effectively. This is because they need to think about how language works and what they know, in order to be able to use the language successfully.

Merril Swain argues that input, being taught the language and being asked to manipulate it in controlled exercises, is useful, but it doesn’t produce the cognitive processing required to internalise language. Whereas:

“output pushes learners to process language more deeply – with more mental effort… With output, the learner is in control. In speaking or writing, learners can ‘stretch’ their interlanguage[1] to meet communicative goals.”

  • Swain

[1]Interlanguage is the learner’s current, work in progress version of the language. 

Thus when producing language, whether it be writing or speaking, students are being cognitively challenged which is helping them to internalise the language, and get better at it. Therefore, the work we do on writing in the classroom can be seen as work done on language development, helping students to improve their linguistic ability.

So how do we get our students writing?

One complaint I often hear from students is that they don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of solutions.

Sit the students in circles of six. Ask students to write the topic they want to write about on the top of an A4 sheet of paper and then pass the paper around in the circle. Each student writes a question on the sheet about the topic at the top. Now each student has the subject they are going to write about and five questions to answer in the text.

Task: You are on a shopping trip to a big city with friends. Write a blog entry about your experience.

Instruction to Students: Decide which city you are visiting write it on top of the piece of paper.

Examples

Paris

Are the shops expensive?

Are there any street markets?

Is there a department store?

London

Are the shops expensive?

Is it crowded?

What is the food like?

If you want the students to all write about the same topic, write the topic on the board and draw two columns. Elicit all the things the students know about the topic and write them in the first column. Then give them time to think of what they would like to know about the topic. Elicit the questions they have thought of and write them in the second column. Now ask the students to do the writing task. The weaker or more cautious ones can rely on the information in the first column the more adventurous ones can try to find answers to the questions in the second column.

Task: Prepare a small advert for tourists about your home town.

Prague

What do we know?

Traditional markets at certain times of the year.

Best time to come is spring

Two castles

What would we like to know?

How much is it to stay in a hotel?

How much to taxis cost?

How do you take a boat trip?

Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?

If you want your students to do some creative writing, you might want to start by asking them to adapt an existing story. For example, you could take the story of Aladdin and ask the students to write a fifty-word summary or to write a 21st Century version or a version that would be more specific to their own country. This allows the students to work within an existing structure, but create their own ideas. An alternative might be to take a song or poem with regular repetitions and ask students to write their own version. Ian Dury’s I Believe is a good song for this kind of activity and can be found in Headway Intermediate.

Call a draft a draft

It is a good idea to encourage students to call their work drafts, to give them a sense that they can, and should, make changes. Asking questions is a really good way of giving feedback. The questions can help create a richer piece.  Some example feedback questions for a piece of creative writing might be: what happened next? why did this happen? how did the people feel? What did the street look like? This shows that the teacher has read the piece with interest and is keen to know more about the story, and was not just looking for mistakes and errors to correct.

In my webinar on the 25th and 26th of January, I will discuss some of these ideas in greater detail and suggest other ways to make the impossible possible and to get your students to enjoy their writing tasks.

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References

Tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.

Swain, M., ‘The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue’ in Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition ed. James P. Lantolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 97- 114 p. 99.


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Do learning technologies actually help students learn?


shutterstock_198926996Do learning technologies actually help students learn? Nicky Hockly’s latest book,
Focus on Learning Technologies, takes a look at research that has been carried out with primary and secondary school learners using technology, and weighs up the evidence.

Although digital technologies in the field of EFL may feel like a recent thing, they have been around for a while. We have a rich research tradition in CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) going back several decades, and teachers and researchers have been trying to find out whether technology actually supports learning for some time. However, although we are mostly in agreement upon the question – Do learning technologies actually help students learn? – the answer is less clear.

The short answer is ‘it depends’. It depends, because it is very difficult to make comparisons across studies, when research is carried out in different contexts with very different groups of students, with different teachers, using different technologies and tools, and with widely differing aims and task types.

For example, imagine a US study carried out with a group of primary students that examines whether using blogs improves their literacy and writing skills (1). Imagine a study in Iran that examines whether a group of university students learn academic vocabulary better through regular SMS texts rather than with dictionaries (2). And imagine a research project in China and Scotland based on a computer game that provides adolescent students with oral prompts in order to develop their speaking skills (3). These are all real research projects, and they have widely different aims, tools, and research methodologies. They take place in very different teaching and learning contexts with very different students and teachers. Some seem to show technology supporting learning but others don’t. At the same time, trying to generalise results from what can be very small-scale, one-off action research projects that may be underpinned by more or less robust research methods, is questionable.

Each of the three studies described above had very different objectives, followed different research procedures, and yielded different results. The blog project used a case study methodology to look at the writing skills development of one English language learner in a class of elementary students in the USA. The researchers found that the blogging curriculum developed her writing skills, increased her confidence as a writer, and improved her written language. So a positive result (for one student) overall.

In the Iranian SMS vocabulary study, a class of 28 EAP students received 10 words and example sentences twice a week via SMS, and were exposed to a total of 320 new words. A control group studied the same vocabulary using a dictionary. Post-test scores showed an improvement in vocabulary learning for all students, but there was no significant difference between the two groups. But a later test showed that the SMS group were able to recall more vocabulary than the dictionary group. So a partly positive result, although one wonders how much vocabulary the two groups would remember a couple of months later.

The study in China and Scotland compared the uptake and response of two separate groups of teenage students to specially-designed game software for speaking practice. The two groups showed different levels of motivation. The group of Chinese EFL students reported increased positive attitudes, whereas the Scottish students learning French reported increased anxiety levels and decreasing positive attitudes during the study. A follow-up study (4) highlighted important limitations in the software. So mixed results overall in this study.

Sometimes studies on exactly the same area (such as learning vocabulary via SMS) show differing results – in some cases it appears to be effective, while in others it doesn’t seem to make any difference. But it’s worth bearing in mind that research studies tend to be self-selective. Researchers will often only publish studies that show positive results – those that show negative or contradictory results may never make it to publication. And although researchers try to avoid it, they are inevitably biased towards positive outcomes in their own studies. All of this means that it’s difficult to make sweeping generalisations such as ‘technology helps students learn English better’ or even ‘regular SMS texts help university students learn academic vocabulary better’.

Where does this leave us? For me, the important point is that we need to be critical users of digital technologies, and critical readers of research in the field. We need to be particularly wary of techno-centric views of technology that claim that the latest hardware/software/game/app/program will somehow magically help our students learn English ‘better’. In short, we need to be critically aware consumers of new technologies – both as users ourselves, and as teachers interested in using digital technologies with our own learners.

References

(1) Gebhard, M., Shin, D. S., & Seger, W. (2011). Blogging and emergent L2 literacy development in urban elementary school: A functional perspective. CALICO Journal, 28, 2, 278-307.
(2) Alemi, M., Sarab, M., & Lari, Z. (2012). Successful learning of academic word list via MALL: Mobile assisted language learning. International Education Studies, 5, 6, 99–109.
(3) Morton, H., & Jack, M. (2010). Speech interactive computer-assisted language learning: A cross-cultural evaluation. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23, 4, 295-319.
(4) Morton, H., Gunson, N., & Jack, M. (2012). Interactive language learning through speech-enabled virtual scenarios. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction. Available at http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ahci/2012/389523/