Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


1 Comment

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.


References


Bibliography


Leave a comment

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.


10 Comments

Online Teaching Part 3: Tips to Engage and Motivate Students

teenager using a tablet in the libraryOnline teaching has been becoming more and more prominent in recent years, but for many of us, we’ve been suddenly thrown into it due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The conversation usually starts with which apps and platforms to use, but it’s important to remember these are only tools; how you use them is what makes or breaks the class. Once you’ve chosen your software, it’s all about keeping the students engaged and willing to work together online. Here are a few online teaching tips to get you started.

Ease students into working online

With a new online class, don’t throw them into a digital project straight away. We need to make sure that the students can use the software before doing any substantial learning tasks. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t read through instruction manuals, let alone remember anything from then. Instead, design some language tasks that have a duel aim of introducing the platforms as well.

  • Using a message board to communicate? Use an ‘order the instructions’ reading task for how to post to it, and then ask them to post their answers on the message board.
  • Using ‘break out rooms’? Ask the students to quickly go into break out room and answer a short ‘getting to know you’ or ‘catching-up’ questionnaire with their partner
  • Using email to communicate? Start off with a quick introduction or sharing of what you’ve been doing since you last saw each other and make sure they’re remembering to reply all (or not!)
  • Raise hand function in your webinar platform? Play a quick ‘Raise your hand if…’ warmer (“Raise your hand if you like coffee” “Raise your hand if you got up before 7 am”) at the start of the lesson

These tasks have clear language aims so the students are still motivated to complete them. The real objective though is getting students used to the systems. If you don’t make sure that they can use the systems early, it’ll become a distraction later and get in the way of their learning as you move onto more complex activities.

Build their confidence online

One of the great features of online teaching is that many people feel more confident to speak out. For many standing in front of a group of people and talking is their worst nightmare, but those same people might be quite happy to post on Twitter for the whole world to see.

But, especially in the early stages, it can be easy to damage this. Without face-to-face interactions, criticism can be harsh and encouraging smiles can be missing. Be liberal with your praise and clear with your suggestions.

  • Use a mixture of public and private praise; a short “Well done with…” instant message can go a long way for boosting confidence.
  • Avoid correcting in public during the beginning stages of a course (on the spot corrections can be sent as a private message).
  • Encourage interaction on the message board by setting tasks that require students to comment on posts: find someone who used a word you don’t know and ask them what it means, or tell two people why you liked their post (and make sure you are as well!)
  • Make sure you’ve introduced appropriate etiquette for your students to use online. Simple things like using an emoticon after peer correcting or giving suggestions can soften the tone.

Provide clear instructions

Giving clear instructions may sound obvious, but because it’s a lot harder to monitor your students during online lessons, clear instructions become even more critical during an online class. Take your time setting up activities to avoid the loss of motivation that comes from students feeling like they wasted time doing something wrong.

  1. Tell the students the objective of the activity. Keep it short and straightforward and aim for a sentence: “let’s circle five unknown words”; “Let’s brainstorm ideas for our poster.”
  2. Demonstrate the activity. If possible, show the students an example of the activity being done and ‘think out loud’ as you do it: “Here’s a word I don’t know, it’s before a noun so it’s an adjective…”
  3. Show and say the instructions step by step. Recap the instructions step by step, ideally as bullet points. Keep your language short and sweet.
  4. Check they understand before starting. Ask some questions to make sure they’re clear: “How long do you have?” “Where do you post your answers?” You can set questions to the whole group to quickly make sure they know what to do and help recap for those who might not (websites like kahoot.com can be great for this).

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 1 of our Online Teaching series.


David Stevenson is originally from the UK but has been working in Education in China for the past ten years. He is the Senior Professional Development Manager at Oxford University Press, Mainland China and his particular areas of interest are developing student autonomy with young learners and helping teachers take research and apply it to their classrooms.


8 Comments

Online Teaching Part 2: Practical Tips for English Language Lessons

man smiling while using a laptop

Getting started

When it comes to planning your first lesson remember ‘less is more.’ Since it’s likely to be the first online lesson for you and your students, things will probably take longer than you think.  As good as online teaching is at bringing people together, there are often little niggly issues, but don’t panic as this is quite normal. For example, some can’t easily connect to the room; students can’t hear you and so on.  If it is the very first lesson, then dedicate most of it to getting to grips with the platform. In future lessons always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out.

Online teaching activities to include

As your students are likely to have a coursebook, don’t be afraid to use it.  Obviously, things need a little adaptation to the online environment. For example, I perhaps wouldn’t get everyone online just to do a coursebook reading. Instead, I would ask them to do it before the lesson or for homework.  Listening should work the same way. Most platforms allow you to share your sound, so rather than press play on the classroom device, simply press play on your computer.

Teaching grammar or vocabulary can be done using the coursebook, whiteboard or a PowerPoint. Many online teachers I know also screen share Google docs or Microsoft OneNote files that get students working collaboratively. By giving them the link, and then using screen share to display, students can see each other’s work.  That said, getting the student to write on paper and hold it up to the screen is also very effective.   Remember if the camera is on they can see you, so this allows you to use typical teaching tools such as flashcards by simply hold it up to the camera for all to see.

Managing student feedback

One of the trickier things is checking answers or doing feedback. This is where the ‘Hands up’ function helps.  For gap fills, get them to write on the whiteboard or annotate a slide, or type their answers into the chatbox. Try to avoid situations where just one student is talking for any length of time. When this happens in your usual classroom, students switch off, and this is amplified online.

If you’re going to do pair work or group work then put the students in breakout rooms. These are spaces within a room that allow people to talk without anyone else hearing often when you activate them the software automatically allocates people into a room so saving you time. Therefore you switch on the function, press the button and off they go into pairs. Now you can jump in and out of their spaces to monitor them just as you would in your usual classroom.  Well okay… you wouldn’t jump in and out but you see what I mean.

Managing expectations for your first online class

My final advice would be to you as the teacher.  For many of us, it’s hard to remember what we felt like when we first started teaching but your first lesson online is going to feel a bit like that.  When I am training new teachers, one of the things they seem to dread is silence and when we move online this fear comes back, but silence is fine. There is nothing wrong with setting the students a task from the coursebooks and you switching off your mic and camera while they do it. It’s a chance for you to collect your thoughts and probably take a much-needed sip of water. Likewise, timing is going feel odd so don’t worry about getting through your whole plan each time. Plans, be it for an online class or face to face, are just guides anyway.

All the skills and confidence you have built up over the years will feel a little compromised in this new online world. But don’t panic, it is the norm.  Don’t chastise yourself that things could have gone smoother in that first lesson; it may be true but remember things probably didn’t go perfectly in that very first lesson face to face either. However, after a few lessons, everything began to feel natural, just as it will in this new environment.  Good luck and don’t forget to wash your hands.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

 

Learn at Home

 

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 3 of our Online Teaching series.


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


Leave a comment

Blended Learning: From Theory to Practice

blended learning

I have long been interested in ‘Blended Learning’ (BL). It remains a ‘buzz’ term in language teaching, although it means different things to different people. This blog post explores some key aspects of BL.

A good place to start unpacking the various definitions of BL is the ELTJ article ‘Key concepts in ELT: Blended Learning’ (2010). Common definitions include:

  • combining traditional teaching with e-learning
  • combining different methodologies
  • combining different technologies

Despite the range of definitions, it is generally understood that the term refers to a course which combines face-to-face (f2f) classroom teaching with web-based learning. This is the definition I will use in my webinar: Blended Learning: from theory to practice.

Flexibility

BL is fascinating because the concept is based on being responsive to individual contexts. There is no single ‘solution’, but rather many ways to blend classroom teaching and online learning.

Flux

The term is constantly changing. The term ‘virtual blend’ has recently been applied to 100% online courses which use ‘face-to-face online’ teaching in ‘live’ webinars. New, somewhat exotic incarnations of BL have evolved, such as f2f + Virtual Reality (VR). Students away from the class use a headset to do further language practice which complements their lessons.

Why blend?

There are many reasons for transitioning to BL. One common reason is to combine the well-known positives of classroom teaching with the advantages of online learning, considered to be studying at your own pace, at a place of your choice; and ‘differentiation’ – using the online platform as a way of delivering personalized, individual learning.

‘Time’ is another frequently cited reason. There is simply not enough time for language learners to cover everything within the constraints of the class timetable. Indeed, some language areas are best suited to self-study, such as extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes.

Can BL save money? There is huge disagreement on this point. Many commercial organizations cite ‘cost-saving’ as a major argument for blending; however, schools who have moved part of the curriculum online often report additional and unexpected costs including remuneration for online moderation.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges in setting up a BL course is that the course fails to satisfy anyone’s learning preference. The students who enjoy the class may not contribute to the knowledge building occurring in the online environment, while those who enjoy working online may dislike the time restrictions imposed by the timetable. Learners may not see the link between their lessons and online work. They sometimes perceive the online components to be of lesser value and fail to do the online work. Technical problems can prove de-motivating.

Which LMS?

In recent workshops, I have asked the question: “Which platform do you use?” The range of answers shows the immense diversity of what happens in classrooms around the world. Common is an ‘open-source’ platform like Moodle which is essentially empty unless you create and upload your own materials. Some private language schools have created their own LMS. If you use a coursebook, a sound entry point is the publisher platform, such as Oxford Online.

Comparing LMSs rarely compares ‘like for like’. The platform you know and love may well be disliked or unknown to a colleague. Much depends on your own preferences, familiarity and of course, your school.

The power of data

This summer, I taught with a publisher-produced platform linked to a coursebook. It included tracking tools which allowed me to see data on student performance, such as their scores for each exercise. It was quite a revelation for me, a classroom teacher, to see just what students do on the platform. I’m keen to share my insights in the webinar.

Success with BL

There are four critical factors in working towards a successful BL course appropriacy, complementarity, attitude and training:

  • Appropriacy

Successful BL teachers plan activities which are appropriate to each mode: classroom and online.

Imagine working on a controversial topic. It is appropriate to develop oral fluency in the classroom, through real-time discussion. It is appropriate to work on ‘critical thinking’ through an online forum, giving students more time to reflect, draft and re-compose their written arguments.

  • Complementarity

This refers to the genuine integration of the ‘in-class’ and ‘online’ elements. Sending students individual messages via the platform is a great way to personalise a printed activity in the student coursebook.

  • Attitude

“Apparently, we now have to use this learning platform, so here is your password!”

 This overheard comment evinces a disconnect between a teachers’ beliefs and their practice. The success of a BL course may well ultimately depend on both teachers and students holding positive beliefs about BL itself.

  • Teacher training

Both teachers and students need time to become familiar with online materials and procedures. Teacher training represents an investment in time and money, yet it is an essential factor in making BL work.

Do you run BL courses? If so, which platform do you use? What is your experience? 

The concept of BL is rich and multi-layered. As technology changes, so does BL. Nevertheless, no matter how fast the technology changes, it is principled pedagogy which lies at the heart of a good language course and underlies BL. I’m very much looking forward to exploring this fascinating, key concept in ELT and sharing ideas with teachers around the world.

Missed Pete’s Blended Learning webinar? Here’s a recording.

Please note – this article was written prior to the more widespread impact of the Coronavirus on schools and is therefore focused on blending online and classroom teaching.

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.


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. Click here to visit Pete’s blog.


References

Sharma, P. (2010). Key Concepts in ELT: Blended learning. ELTJ, 64(4), 456-458

Sharma, P. and Barrett, B. (2018) Best Practices for Blended Learning (2018) Hove: Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd

Whittaker, C., and Tomlinson, B. (Eds.). (2013). Blended learning in English language teaching: Course Design and Implementation London, UK: British Council.