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Promoting Project-Based Learning | Q&A

Project workDuring the recent webinars I presented for OUP on Project-Based Learning, I set out a framework which could be used in ELT.

Project-Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute for Education (2018) as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

In order for this to be more accessible for English Language Teaching (ELT) we need to set out a framework and be selective to make pedagogic sense.

Generate and stimulate: This has to come from the teacher initially, especially if you are dealing with young learners or teens. It is about knowing your students and knowing what will motivate them in terms of the topics and activities you are going to ask of them. Generate interest by discussing issues that directly affect them, and this will stimulate them further. It’s the teacher’s job to build curiosity and passion in to the project, adding and stirring when necessary. As ideas are generated, areas that need further exploring should become exposed. As a group, decide which problem/area you want to explore.

Define and refine: From this you need to define a driving question – one where the answer cannot be simply ‘Googled’. Each class or group within a class should have a different driving question that is specific to their interests. You may start with defining quite a big question such as ‘What size should the trains be?‘  And refine this down to ‘How can we get as many people on the train as possible?‘. These questions should not be written in ‘educationese’ like ‘What methods could be used to maximise the capacity of the trains?’, but worded by and for the learners.

Designate and Collaborate: At this stage, the project is truly designed, and the goals are set using SMART principles (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). The tasks and activities are designated to the learners who want them or feel they would like the opportunity to do them. There should be a strong sense of collaboration, so that not one student feels like they are doing all the work, or are isolated. At this point it is a good idea to visually display the goals which have been set, who is doing what, and timescales. This is an opportunity to value each and every member of the class.

Compare and Share: It is essential that there is a continuum of input and feedback, and this should come from peers as well as the teacher. Getting groups to compare what they are doing and sharing their ideas will only make all of the projects better. Students get a better idea of their own performance by seeing what others have done and comparing themselves in relation to each other. Giving and taking critical feedback is also an important part of development; using the THINK mnemonic (see diagram above) should set expectations and provide guidelines for peer feedback. Having a ‘growth mindset’ is about learning how to receive and use feedback productively, accepting critiques as suggestions for improvement rather criticisms of failure.

Enhance and Advance: Learners start off using the knowledge and skills that they have, but then develop these further through the tasks or research that they are doing. This is what makes perfect pedagogic sense, where they have created a context that interests them, which in turn has defined the language that they need to complete a task. This integrates language, as well as content and skills development. Essentially they are providing inherently important reasons for using the language. According to Patsy Lightbown, a lot of language is acquired through meaningful language usage. However, many features of language cannot be acquired, so it is our job as English Language teachers to provide them with the language they need to complete the task.

PBL allows us to adapt goals for learners at different proficiency levels, using the content the learners have created as a backdrop provides meaningful language. The focus should also be on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) such as reasoning, enquiry and discussion, creative thinking, self and peer evaluation, and hypothesizing. Compare these skills to Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) such as remembering information, ordering information, defining objects and checking understanding. Other skills that need to be enhanced are 21st Century skills (for more information click here). These include: Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. 

Review and Revise: Students look back at the whole project and review what they have done, being critical of their own work. Similar to the Compare and Share stage but students need to turn the THINK questioning on to their own work and evaluate and state what they like, and what they would have done differently if they were doing it again. This helps to consolidate learning and assess what learning has taken place.

Produce and present: This is the final product and it should be presented to more than just class peers. It doesn’t have to be a poster, display, or a PPT presentation – with the advancement of technology there are so many other ways to publish the work that your students have done, from infographics to using Minecraft! Some of the other suggestions that came out through the webinar include: leaflets, videos, photo stories, podcasts, school magazines, comics, e-books, school websites, blogs, Prezzi presentations, puzzles, links with QR codes, video tutorials, Padlet, and using Google Forms and documents.

The PBL Framework is presented in a circle, as more often than not, more interest and motivation is generated during the presentation stage, stimulating more areas of inquiry and leaving questions that still need exploring. Perhaps the presentation is from another group of learners which generates and stimulates conversation with your group of learners.

The framework is only complete when we add the student to the centre, making sure that they are at the heart of the project. It is their project, rather than the teacher’s, and that needs to reflect the needs and interests of the learners.

As teachers, we need to coordinate and manage the whole process at every stage. It’s not about giving it to the learner and walking away until a final product is handed in. It’s a lot more work for us! We have to manage and micro-manage each section, stage, and learner to make sure they are all benefitting from PBL.

Lastly and most importantly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are language teachers and we need to provide language input, so at each stage of the framework, there should be time allocated to language input. We need to provide the learners with the language they need in order to carry out the tasks, do the research, present their findings. That means a lot of different structures will be needed – we  can’t expect them to know it all already. There are a lot of opportunities to develop the different skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing) while on the PBL path. These all need to feature somewhere in your lesson plans and making sure that each learner is not neglecting development of any of the skills.

Qs: Can PBL be used in the language class for adults? Is it difficult for primary students? Does PBL make sense in evening schools as well where you meet 1 1/2 hour each week for 12 times?

A: There were a lot of questions on whether PBL is suitable for different ages and levels and teaching situations. The PBL framework could, and should, be used as that – a ‘framework’ – where you adapt the content and language according to your learners, their age, stage of development, interests, language competency and number of hours you have available. There is no time scale because you can adapt it to suit the time you have available, choosing which sections of the framework to focus on if you need to.

Qs: I’ve often had students who can produce understandable but incorrect language. How much correction is really meaningful for projects? Often we need really disciplined students to complete tasks in English. How can you make them speak only English? You mentioned having language input between each stage; would this be topic related or functional language for completing the projects (collaborative phrases etc)?

A: A lot of comments came up about language and how your students didn’t have enough language to do PBL. This is where you need to identify what language they will need to do a specific task, not just the content language but functional language too, and provide some input on that, like you would in a normal language lesson. At each stage of the framework they will need different functional language, as well as different content language. Remember the ‘Enhance and Advance’ stage/element is to start with what they know and can build upon, both in terms of content and language. Providing language input is a key to a successful PBL environment. When teaching in monolingual situations, you need to create a positive learning environment where the students want to speak in English (as you would in your normal lessons). I usually nominate one student in each group (a different student each time, and not necessarily the strongest) to be the ‘English Captain’, giving them the responsibility to make sure as much English is used as possible.

Q: How do you get ideas for topics?  Not all students are interested in one topic, how can we manage that? What happens if several students want to tackle the same aspect of a question? Should I have to decide with my pupils what content is?

A: Karen suggested that maybe the teacher could give a choice of projects, and students vote to choose collaboratively. One of the main objectives of PBL is to encourage collaboration, and it starts with the choice of topic. To get inspiration about some of the topics to use have a look at some of the links listed below. Defining a point of inquiry is just the start, as this soon gets refined to something more specific. If there are several students who wish to explore the same area, that is fine, it will make the ‘Compare and Share’ stage more generative and it will raise the overall level of the projects considerably. Like with all language lessons you will want to set the students home learning tasks (I’ve stopped using the term ‘homework’ as I don’t want them to get the right answers just for me to mark, but because they are learning).

At the end of the session I shared that my life philosophy is based on MMM, which is a more learner-centred, child friendly view of how language is acquired used by University of Nottingham ITE team.

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

This also supports the pedagogic reasoning behind PBL, where the learners are ‘Meeting’ the topic/content/language/ driving question, ‘Manipulating’ it as they research and develop their ideas, and by doing a presentation they are ‘Making’ it their own; they are taking ownership of the topic/content and language so that it belongs to them.

So now that you have MET PBL, it is up to you to decide if you want to MANIPULATE the ideas suggested to your individual teaching situation. If you do that, then you will certainly have a feeling of OWNING PBL…having MADE it your own. And this is exactly the sensation you want to create in your lessons, so that your learners leave with a sense of owning the project, owning the content, owning the skills, and owning the language.


Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


References:

Brewster, Ellis and Girard. (1993). The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Penguin.

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.

Lightbown, P. (2014). Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

BIE PBL YouTube Video Project Based Learning: Explained
https://oxelt.gl/2Ml9mUl

What is project-based learning? 15 PBL ideas fit for your classroom
by Lucie Renard — Jun 22, 2017
https://www.bookwidgets.com/blog/2017/06/what-is-project-based-learning-15-pbl-ideas-fit-for-your-classroom

25 Creative Ways to Incorporate More Project Based Learning in the Classroom
By Terri Eichholz April 18, 2016
http://www.fusionyearbooks.com/blog/project-based-learning/

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.
Accessed 10/5/18


Other interesting YouTube videos and Blogs you may find useful:

How to Design Project-Based Learning Activities EUN Academy: https://youtu.be/_3yAODXnAsg

http://digitaldivideandconquer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/project-based-learning-in-your-classroom.html?m=1

https://hqpbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FrameworkforHQPBL.pdf

MMM : How many TLAs do we really need? Is there room for one more?
By Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa
https://jmhdr.wordpress.com/

There are SO MANY resources and inspiration on Pinterest which gives you links to blogs and websites.


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Promoting Project-Based Learning

PrProject-Based Learningoject-Based Learning has always had a significant place in the English Language classroom. Teachers soon realise that the topic of language and grammar is not the most engaging, especially for younger learners and teenagers. Even for adults, there is rarely an occasion to discuss the use of the present perfect or passive forms in natural conversation. Projects, therefore, help provide a topic and situation to consolidate language and provide further practice of specific tenses and/or lexis.

Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing students’ reactions when they realise that the piece of artwork and/or writing they have been working on is part of a larger picture, to create a display for a wider audience.  They develop a sense of pride and achievement knowing that their work is being viewed by parents, carers, teachers, students, and other interested parties. Some of the most ambitious projects I coordinated as the Director of Studies at International House Porto were whole school projects where each student, from every class regardless of age or level, was given the same rubric or task.

This inter-generational, cross-level endeavour meant that differentiation in what was produced was by outcome, allowing each individual to work according to their own abilities. This is preferable (and easier to coordinate) to setting a different task for each age group and level. The underlying principle of Project-Based learning is that learners can work to their own strengths, and at the same time the spectacular displays can create a wonderful sense of community within the school, often with families coming to visit the school to see the final exhibition.  The project, though, is driven by the teacher or institute and the work produce is ultimately for display purposes.

Project-Based Learning (PBL), however, is much more than producing wall displays and completing projects set by the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to instigate the project, but then to let the learners navigate and steer it. The driving force should come from the students, as they find a way to tackle a real-life problem, or conduct some inquiry research into areas that have an impact on their lives. PBL is about the process rather than the final product (which could still be a wall display, if appropriate), and developing the skill-sets such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which are needed for life and work in the modern world (click here for more information on 21st century skills).

PBL is more akin to Content-Based Learning (CBL) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated  Learning) in that the pedagogic principles focus on encouraging learners to expand their cross-curriculum knowledge through challenging experiences, developing technological skills, contextualising communication skills, all by engaging with authentic and meaningful projects.

Here are 7 points to consider when creating an effective PBL program:

  • Identify a challenging problem or a question which must be researched (not just Googled!) in order to expand knowledge and understanding of the area
  • Feature real-world contexts which are both stimulating and interesting, and which will ultimately have an impact on the lives of the learners
  • Engage the learner in associated cognitive processing as they sustain a level of inquiry
  • Collaborating and communicating within the classroom community and beyond in order to set themselves tasks, delegate, and carry out research.
  • Develop appropriate language awareness and language skills
  • Self-reflection and evaluation, questioning what has been achieved and how it could move forward

And finally

  • Produce a public product to present, display or exhibit to interested parties beyond the classroom.

Project-Based Learning is well-suited to mainstream schools and education systems, and there has been a lot of research to prove that it is the way forward. But how well does it fit into the English language classroom? In my upcoming webinar I will explore further what is involved in Project-Based Learning and how you could use it in the English Language classroom. I will set out a basic framework which should be adaptable depending on individual teaching situations. We shall also have an opportunity to share ideas, make suggestions and inspire each other to try out different kinds of PBL.

Click here to register.


References:

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.


Jane-Maria Harding da RosaJane Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


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Learning to Learn in the Primary Classroom | Q&A with Erika Osváth

I recently presented three webinars on ‘Learning to Learn Skills’ in the Primary Classroom. Here we collect the questions that could not be answered because of time reasons. Naturally, there were a great number of interesting thoughts that came up, so in this post we’ll reflect upon some of the most common ones.

  1. How to help children concentrate for a longer period of time?

I find this question one of the most important ones, as children’s ability to focus seems to have dramatically decreased in the past 20 years or so. It’s not just me; hundreds of teachers that I work with every year report the same thing. Discussing the cause is beyond the scope of this post, but the consequences are evident in terms of their capacity to learn. More and more psychologists express their concern in this area. One internationally known psychologist, Daniel Goleman (2013), says he is worried about children in particular because their brain continues to mature into their 20s. He worries that if young students fail to build up the neural networks that are required for focused attention, they could have problems with emotional control and empathy.

“…the children’s ability to focus seems to have dramatically decreased in the past 20 years or so…”

So what can we do in our classroom to cultivate the skill of attention? As with all things that we learn, we need to adjust the practice to the current ability of the children.  Here are a couple of ideas you can start to experiment with in your classes.

Clapping games that students could do in pairs or with the whole class following a particular rhythm require attentions, games like these help to develop this skill a great deal. Why not combine the game with some vocabulary practise? For example, if you are practising food vocabulary, start the following rhythm with the whole class standing in a circle: Clap-clap, tap (on your lap), tap (on your lap). When you tap your lap say a food item and the child on your right has to say a different food item at the next tap, keeping the rhythm. With each tap the next child on the right continues saying a new food item. If they do not manage to stay in rhythm or they repeat the same word, the cycle starts from the beginning. It is very important that nobody goes out of the game, but with every mistake the cycle is repeated.

In this way, children will want to really pay attention, either because they are getting bored and they want to finish quickly, or – and this is the case most of the time in my experience – they want to prove that they can go around the whole circle without repeating the previous word and staying more or less in rhythm. I highly recommend clapping games combined with vocabulary practice. They are very effective in terms of developing attention, and it is a lot of fun too!

Another idea is to conduct some simple mindfulness activities with your children, especially when they’re not paying attention to you or the material. Ask them to close their eyes and put their heads down on the table for a minute. Then ask them to listen to all the sounds they hear and try to work out what they are. Of course, there are a great number of other activities we could use to help children focus.

  1. How do you motivate children to learn?

This is an extremely broad question, with a seemingly simple answer that I’m sure you all know. Make the experience fun and meaningful for them without expecting children to ‘learn’ as we may do when we are older. What they want to do and can do at this age is to learn through play. One idea is to build your teaching on playful enquiry, encouraging children to explore. You could, for example, use topics in your course book to inspire children to ask their questions, before trying to find the answers to those questions together collaboratively. Project work could be utilised here.

“Make the experience fun and meaningful… [so that they] … learn through play.”

We should focus as much on our teaching content as on the language we use to describe it, as this is the part that keeps children curious and motivated in our lessons. A commonly used and extremely effective idea is to use the use the K/W/L chart. Say you are focusing on wild animals in your lesson, ask the children to write down some things they know about wild animals, and things they want to know on large post-it notes. Place the notes in two separate columns. You can use a class poster for this idea so that the children can see each other’s questions. At the end of the lesson(s), use the third column of this chart to help them reflect on what they have learnt.  The post-it notes can then be flexibly moved from one column to the other, say from want to know column to what have I learnt.

KWL chart:

K

What do I know?

W

What do I want to know?

L

What have I learnt?

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Can 6-8 year olds become independent learners?

If we mean by “independent learner” someone who has a number of learning strategies to choose from, and is able to opt for the most effective one when they need it, then the answer is ‘no, in most cases’. In my experience, although children at this age are able to, for example, assess themselves and possibly even to self-correct, it doesn’t mean that they are independent learners of English. It is not something that should be expected of them within a language classroom.  There are certain techniques and strategies you can use to develop children’s independence, however. For example, by not giving them the answers to their questions instantly, but encouraging them to find a way to work out their own answers – either through getting help from their peer, checking it in their book, checking a dictionary, or asking someone at home.

Another important thing to point out is that the level of independence may vary greatly from one child to another, and this is normal. One child, for example, never forgets to bring their English notebook to class, but another one keeps leaving theirs at home. One child turns to their desk-mate to check their answer immediately after finishing a task, while another looks straight at you, the teacher, with great big eyes, seeking confirmation. We need to treat every child as a special and unique individual, who needs our support and guidance to grow their wings, which will then help them to fly on their own when they are ready.


Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


References:

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: the hidden driver of excellence. Harper: New York.

Erika Osváth is co-author of Mixed-Ability Teaching with Edmund Dudley.


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Learning to learn in the primary classroom

I have been teaching a group of young teenagers of very mixed levels and ages for six months now. Half of the group comes from the state-school system and the other half attend “an alternative school”. The latter group is one-three years younger and was the weakest one in terms of language knowledge at the beginning of the year. These children were weak elementary while the rest strong pre-intermediate/intermediate. I was even wondering whether they would be able to cope emotionally with the fact that the rest of the class coming from a state-school background is so much stronger.

As time went by, however, the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed. They were very good at using soft skills such as really listening to the teacher and to each other. They asked questions with confidence if they got stuck. They were able to work out answers for themselves by observing the clues carefully. I also watched them constantly use colors to highlight, to make mind-maps, and to make beautiful drawings in their notebooks to accompany their newly learnt language without having to draw their attention to these learning strategies. Their notebooks are not ordinary ones with the answers of exercises, lists of words and occasional grammar tables, but they look more like living books that you would want to open again and again to look at. And of course, I sometimes witnessed their frustration as well, but I saw their strategies of handling these emotions successfully too.

‘… the children who were seemingly behind caught up at an amazing speed.’

These children have learnt something important that we all need in this rapidly changing world, and these are skills that allow them to adapt to new situations, new contexts, new people, and new tasks easily. Possessing vast knowledge – most of which computers provide us with in fractions of seconds anyway – does not give us enough support in being able to rise up to new challenges at this speed. Instead we need the soft skills and learning skills that equip us with the necessary flexibility.

What are these skills? How can they be developed? From the example above – just as, I am sure, we can all list such examples from our lives – these questions have obvious answers. But it feels harder to teach these skills instead of a set of new words or a new language point as they are less tangible.

Essential skills for primary children

So what is it that children need to learn in the primary school? According to Emőke Bagdy, a renowned Hungarian clinical psychologist, at this age children need to learn the following things: To read, to write, to count, and to be confident. They need to develop a sense of self-belief that they can do it. If this fails, according to E. Bagdy, children will struggle with their learning, in managing new situations at school, and in their life as adults.  This is also supported by the PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) that has found that learners’ belief in their own efficacy is the strongest single predictor of whether they will adopt strategies that make learning effective or not (Artelt et al., 2003, pages 33–34).

One of the key things that influence children’s confidence is our own view of them as individuals and of their abilities. It is important to approach every single child believing that they can do it. A simple idea to do this is to catch them being good, something that can be easily done with the help of the Snakes poster – see below.

Snake Poster.

Draw one snake for every child in the class and label each one with a student’s name. Make sure the body of each snake is divided into lots of triangular sections. Each time a student does something praiseworthy (e.g. makes a helpful comment, shows determination, waiting patiently for their turn, etc.), tell them to come out and colour in one section of their snake with a pen of their choice.

Mixed-ability teaching, Edmund Dudley, Erika Osváth, OUP, 2016

 

Of course, we need to make sure that children progress with the colouring in their snakes approximately at similar speeds to avoid any feelings of shame, which would definitely be detrimental. Feeling good about oneself has an immense motivational power at any age, but it is imperative in the primary classroom.

Another important teaching moment that has a great impact on children’s self-confidence is our way of dealing with mistakes. In my view, there are no mistakes made in the primary classroom, but rather opportunities for children to notice something that is different or new in terms of use of words, language chunks, spelling, etc. For example, if children are copying words in their notebook from the board and there are some spelling errors, rather than overwriting these in red by the teacher, it’s a good idea to encourage children to look at the board again and discover the differences for themselves.

Naturally, there are many more soft-skills that need to be developed at this age so that children become efficient learners, such as resilience, curiosity and collaboration. In my upcoming ‘learning to learn skills’ webinar, we will be looking at further practical examples of how we can develop these in the primary language classroom. Click here to register, don’t miss it!

Have an idea of your own? We’d love to see it, so do share it below in the comments!


Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a YL co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. She regularly travels to teach demonstration lessons with local children, and do workshops for teachers. Erika is co–author with Edmund Dudley of Teaching Mixed Ability.


References:

Artelt, C., Baumert, J., Julius-McElvany, N. and Peschar, J. (2003). Learners for life: student approaches to learning. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/33690476.pdf Accessed 15/2/18.

For Bagdy Emőke, see: http://bagdyemoke.hu/beszelgetesek-emokevel/

Dudley, E. and Osváth, E. (2016). Mixed-ability teaching. Oxford: OUP.


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Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>