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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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Teacher Wellbeing: A SMART Approach | Sarah Mercer

teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing is an essential ingredient for effective, creative, and motivating teaching. Yet, so many teachers neglect their own self-care, focusing their time and energy on other aspects of their professional practice. In this blog, I outline how we can all become a little ‘smarter’ about our wellbeing.  A ‘SMART’ teacher attends to their Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and use of Time, in order to teach to the best of their abilities so that they can truly flourish as professionals. Let’s look at each facet of a ‘SMART’ approach to teacher wellbeing.

Self

SMART teachers understand the value of self-care, self-compassion, and placing the self in the centre of their agenda. Many educators are naturally orientated towards caring for others as is the nature of the profession. However, this focus outwards often means that their own ‘self’ needs can be overlooked and neglected. Yet, the saying, ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’, serves as a warning of the perils of not attending to the self. If teachers want to teach to the best of their abilities, they need to ensure they are looking after themselves too so that they have energy and resources to draw on in their professional roles. Self-care is not an indulgent luxury; rather it is the foundation of good practice.

Motivation

SMART teachers are aware of their own motivation. Everybody’s motivation experiences peaks and troughs. The key is to recognise the dips and know what you need to do to help you regain your drive. Humans also have a natural tendency towards a negativity bias meaning we tend to focus on the negatives and sometimes lose sight of the positives. Our wellbeing and motivation can benefit when we deliberately take stock of the positives in our jobs on a daily basis.

At the end of the day, make a note of things you enjoyed, found rewarding, or are grateful for about your job. Looking at the positives is not about denying the negatives which you may still need to address; it is about maintaining a balanced focus. It can be motivating to remind ourselves of what we love about our jobs and perhaps, for some, reconnect with our original motivations for choosing this profession.

Active

SMART teachers appreciate the tight connections between physical and mental wellbeing and the benefits of being active in this regard. Our physical wellbeing centres around what is known as the ‘health triangle’, which involves sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Attending to these aspects of self is a prerequisite for being able to flourish at work. Everyone’s needs and capacities in this regard vary, and each person needs to find their own balance. However, the key is to consciously attend to our health triangle ensuring that quality sleep, healthy nutrition, and time for exercise are not pushed off our agendas by other seemingly more pressing demands. Nothing is more important than your health and recognising this is a critical first step. Human bodies are incredible machines but they also need good maintenance – make sure you look after your body as well as you look after your car, plants, or pets!

Relationships

SMART teachers know just how important relationships are for wellbeing. John Donne famously said, ‘no man is an island’. We are all embedded in a web of social relationships. In the workplace, our wellbeing is boosted through positive relationships with colleagues as well as with our learners. Among colleagues, a special friend at work to connect with and share work ideas with is particularly valuable. In our personal lives, family and friends represent a key source of strength and support. Investing in our social relationships means setting quality time aside to meet, and then savouring the time together without distractions. Making ‘date nights’ with partners and friends remains a great strategy to keep relationships healthy.

Time

SMART teachers have strategies for managing their time effectively. Good time management is not about being efficient so you work even more and even harder! Good time management is about finding ways to work effectively, so you can create more time in your schedule to engage in self-care, do exercise, be with family and friends, and spend time on hobbies and other aspects of life which refresh and motivate you. Being able to manage your time means knowing what needs to be done, keeping an overview of deadlines (long- and short-term), and understanding when you work best on what kinds of tasks. Check your priorities and organise your time accordingly – that includes making yourself and your relationships a priority fixed in your schedule like any other important appointment.

Teaching is a wonderful profession, which can be extremely rewarding and meaningful. However, the passion and dedication that many teachers exhibit often means that they neglect their own wellbeing. ‘SMART’ teachers know that making their wellbeing a priority is not selfish or something to feel guilty about. Instead, it is a recognition of personal worth and the fact that everyone – teachers and learners – benefit if teachers look after themselves and are wellbeing-SMART: Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and Time.

 


 

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

 


 

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


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The Jungle Book becomes our 100th Domino! | Alex Raynham

Jungle Book graded reader among other copies of the Jungle BookTo mark the publication of the 100th Dominoes graded reader − The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling − the author Alex Raynham talks about the challenges of adapting such a classic title and gives some advice about classroom use.

When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Books (originally plural) in the mid-1890s, he was the most popular author in the English-speaking world, and his stories became an instant classic. The Jungle Books have stood the test of time, appealing to successive generations of readers and appearing in many print, movie, and theatrical adaptations. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the snake and Shere Khan the villainous tiger have become part of popular culture. No wonder then that Oxford University Press has produced so many different versions over the years!

How do you adapt a classic story?

The biggest challenge was how to adapt and simplify a story that has become such a well-known classic, whilst keeping it fresh and entertaining. The original Jungle Books are a diverse collection of stories over 300 pages long. In contrast, a Level 1 Dominoes cartoon-style reader has only 27 pages of story text and is about 3,000 words − so careful text selection was required. We decided to focus on the stories in The Jungle Books, which concern the adventures of Mowgli and his friends and exclude any stories unrelated to them. We then tried to focus on key events that moved the stories forward and contributed to our understanding of the main characters.

After that we made a detailed plan of each page of the story, deciding what artwork and text to include in each ‘frame’ on those pages. Each piece of text needed to be short enough to leave plenty of space for artwork, so the wording needed to be precise. Every sentence had to contribute to the overall story. In addition, each chapter needed to end with some kind of cliffhanger, motivating learners to read on and find out what happens next.

Staying true to Kipling’s vision

The original Jungle Books are witty, captivating and descriptively rich. Kipling sets the scene and paints the characters beautifully. So one big issue with the adaptation was how to stay true to the spirit of the original story when a Level 1 Dominoes reader only has A1 grammatical structures and a wordlist of just 400 headwords. One way to do this was to preserve Kipling’s ‘voice’ as much as possible. Using plenty of direct speech helps with this, and we’ve also kept some of Kipling’s original phrases: for example, ‘man cub’ − the way that Mowgli’s wolf family describe him as a child.

Why a comic strip?

A comic strip is ideal for many readers at A1 level − particularly titles which contain rich settings and many different characters, such as The Jungle Book. It helps to introduce new vocabulary, and descriptions of the characters and settings can be supported by the pictures, making them easier to visualise at this level. A comic strip also helps the teacher to use each chapter in a variety of ways in class. For example:

  • Illustrations help the teacher to pre-teach vocabulary or reinforce it after reading.
  • All or part of some speech bubbles can be blanked out, and learners can be asked to reconstruct or predict the dialogue.
  • The teacher can photocopy a page of the story and cut up the pictures, then rearrange and scan them, asking learners to put them in order. This can be done on the IWB as a pre-reading prediction activity, or as a post-reading story review.

Supporting learners’ reading without breaking the flow

It’s probably true to say that the less we intervene, the more learners get out of extended reading. We need to motivate learners by giving them a sense of achievement through being able to read and understand an extended narrative pretty much on their own. But we also want to make sure that learners are actually understanding the story and getting the most out of it. So we’re playing the role of facilitator– encouraging students and giving them space, but also directing them to the resources contained in the books.

The meaning of above-level vocabulary is given on the page in Dominoes titles, allowing the learner to read on without getting stuck. For example, in The Jungle Book, we gloss the word ‘cub’ so that learners can understand ‘man cub’. It’s important to direct them to these Glossary words when needed without interrupting their reading by focussing too much on them.

Using activities to support learning

The Activities after every chapter can be used to facilitate class discussion about the story and recycle new vocabulary, but we should avoid the temptation to check that learners remember every detail. Using the ‘Guess What’ predictive activities in these sections is a good way to get learners thinking about the plot and what might happen next without the pressure to get any answers right.

End-of-book Grammar Check activities are designed to support learners when reading each particular title. For example, in The Jungle Book, one focus is irregular plurals nouns like ‘deer’, ‘buffalo’ and ‘teeth’! Using the Projects at the back will also help learners to relate what they’ve read to their experiences and the wider world. For example, in The Jungle Book, they’re asked to write a profile of one of four animals in the story, based on a model: Bengal tiger, wolf, black panther or brown bear.

It’s easy for students to get to the end of a graded reader, then forget about it. But in L1, we talk about good books that we’ve read with friends and think about them long after we’ve turned the last page. So it’s vital to try and reflect this both inside and outside the classroom.

 

Looking for something new to support your learners’ reading skills? Try these ready-to-use activities from our brand new graded reader!

Download your sample of The Jungle Book

Download the Activity Pack

 


Alex Raynham grew up in New Zealand and the UK before graduating from Oxford University. He was an ELT teacher in Italy and Turkey and later became an editor with Oxford University Press. Today he is a freelance author, editor and ELT teacher trainer based in Turkey. He has written over 20 ELT titles, including more than ten graded readers for Oxford University Press, and spoken at conferences throughout Turkey and abroad.


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Thinking Thoughtfully: Tips for YOUR Wellbeing | Tammy Gregerson

wellbeingHow many different hats do you wear? As a language teacher, you certainly have your professional headgear as well as your personal headgear. But if you are like many of us, you stack them on your head, forgetting to hang one in the closet before smooshing another on top of the one already there! Wouldn’t it be great if we could take one off before putting on the other?

As teaching professionals, we blur the lines between school and home, work and play. My very dear friend, Sarah Mercer and I have been on a campaign to help alleviate the stress that teachers feel because of this work/life imbalance and we’ve actually written a book about it!

On March 25th, I will be hosting a webinar, and I would like to invite each and every language teacher who finds self-care a challenge!

In the webinar, I will hit on five major points:

  1. Aligning our multiple selves. Let’s discuss how language teachers might make the various roles we play more complimentary, reducing the tensions between our personal and professional lives.
  2. Assessing our mindsets. These are our individual beliefs about the extent to which challenges and problems are within our control. Do we have a fixed mindset (“there’s nothing I can do about it”) or a “growth” mindset (“hmmm, there’s some room for growth here”)? Growth mindsets are essential for maintaining a positive attitude when confronting challenges. In the webinar, we’ll look at some hands-on ideas to help us nurture growth mindsets and soften up some of our cut-in-stone beliefs.
  3. Reflecting on attributions and optimism. Here, we will work through several activities that target our attitudes towards things that happen to us and our expectations for the future. Do we attribute our success and failures to internal or external factors? Do we look at life’s events with positivity or negativity?
  4. Measuring our attention. While some people emphasize the importance of multi-tasking, research suggests that we stress ourselves out and actually waste time and energy by focusing on more than one task. Instead, we should focus our attention on one thing at a time. At this point, you might be saying, “really, are you serious? With everything I have to do?”  Yes, that is what I’m proposing! I will follow this up with some fascinating ways to get things done more efficiently. Tips on time management are forthcoming!
  5. Finding mental space. Here, I will advocate giving ourselves mental space and allowing our subconscious to work harder for us. I would be willing to bet that many of us have come up with some of our best ideas in the shower or while sleeping. I’d like to help you discover how to do this more effectively, and how to optimise this precious commodity of ‘productivity at peace’.

So, goodnight for now, and I hope to see you at my webinar!

Do you want to discover great strategies for nurturing and promoting your wellbeing? Register for the webinar!

———————————————————–

Tammy Gregersen, a professor of TESOL at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, received her MA in Education and PhD in Linguistics in Chile, where she began her academic career. She is co-author with Sarah Mercer of Teacher wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Together with Peter MacIntyre, she wrote the books, Capitalizing on Language Learner Individuality and Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Communication in the Language Classroom.  She is also a co-editor with Peter and Sarah Mercer of Positive Psychology in SLA and Innovations in Language Teacher Education. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and contributed several chapters in applied linguistics anthologies on individual differences, teacher education, language teaching methodology and nonverbal communication in language classrooms.


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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.

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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