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Going Mobile: A Q&A with Nicky Hockly

Girl in park with tablet computerNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She has worked in ELT since 1987 with teachers all over the world. She has also written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching. Her latest book is Focus on Learning Technologies

During my recent webinar Going Mobile, I described activities that use mobile devices in the classroom, and that I have used with my own EFL students. This included two QR code activities, which generated quite a few questions from the audience! QR (Quick Response) codes can be read by mobile phones, and can deliver a text message to students’ mobile phone screens (among other things). If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, you could take a look at this post on my blog: A dummies guide to QR codes.

The two activities I described in my webinar are also described in detail on my blog. Both were carried out with a beginner (A1 level) class of EFL students in the UK. The first activity involved four QR codes, each of which (when ‘read’ by students with their mobile phones), gave them a question reviewing recent vocabulary and grammar. You can read about how the activity worked in practice here: Intro to QR codes.

The second activity was a treasure hunt, in which QR codes were placed in various locations around the school. The students went in pairs and threes to each location, read the code with their mobile phones, and carried out a task that was delivered in text message format via the QR code in each place. The tasks included looking for information and taking notes, taking photos, interviewing people in the school (two receptionists, the Director of Studies, and myself), and audio recording two of these interviews. You can read about how the activity worked in practice on my blog here: QR codes: A treasure hunt.

Based on these two activities, here are some of the questions that the audience asked:

What didn’t you give them these questions on a paper [instead of using QR codes]? Why all that time-consuming work? 

This is a great question, and probably the first one that needs to be asked! I could certainly have given students the questions on pieces of paper stuck on the wall. There are a number of reasons I decided to use QR codes instead. Firstly, although most of the students in the class had seen QR codes before, it turned out that not a single one had a QR code reader on their phones, or knew how to read QR codes. So by getting them to download a free QR code reader app (using the school Wi-Fi), and showing them how QR codes work, they gained an additional digital skill. But more importantly, using QR codes had a direct and visible impact on the students’ motivation and engagement in the lesson. It got them up and moving, it provided variety, it was something new, and there was the element of ‘cracking a code’ – you don’t know what a QR code says until you actually decipher it via a QR code reader app on your mobile device. But the important point to make here is that the two lessons were not about QR codes. The QR codes were simply a means through which to deliver the task instructions. The tasks were where the students really had to work, by answering questions, by the interviewing people, by finding information. Some of the tasks (like carrying out and recording two audio interviews with native speakers) were very demanding for A1 level students, and they worked hard at it. This is where real learning took place.

The second question is also an excellent one. Creating QR codes is not particularly time-consuming, but the great thing is that you can reuse these activities with different classes. Also, if various teachers in your school are creating different QR code activities, the codes can be put on cardboard or laminated, and then used by different teachers with a range of their classes. Creating any new materials for your class (handouts, slides, tests, etc.) will require you to invest a little bit of time, but if the materials are effective, they can be reused.

Did you design the QR codes yourself? Or did you use them from a coursebook? Which QR code generator do you use? 

I designed the QR codes myself, because I wanted the QR code messages to review recent vocabulary and grammar that my students had studied in class. I’m not aware of any adult EFL coursebooks that integrate QR codes as part of language review activities (which is what my two activities did). To create the QR codes before class, I used a QR code generator called Kaywa. But another very good one is QR code generator, which both reads and creates QR codes, and is easier to use than Kaywa. The students in my class were using their own mobile phones, so we had a range of mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry). For them to be able to read the QR codes, I asked them to download a cross-platform QR code reader called i-nigma, which I’ve found to be excellent. ‘Cross-platform’ means that the same app works on different mobile operating systems.

 I’ve got 40 students in my classes. Do you think I can still do the QR activities?

Good question! I was lucky to have very small classes, with around 12 students per class. So when my students were moving around the school in the treasure hunt activity (in separate pairs and threes), there was very little disruption for the school. With large classes (and assuming your school Director gave permission for students to be moving around the school!) you could include more QR codes with tasks (say 20 in total) and have them in lots of different areas of the school, with pairs of students working with different QR codes in different locations at the same time. Essentially this is a question of logistics, and it’s going to depend on the size of your school, the age (and noisiness!) of your students. You’d need to make sure that there is enough space in the school for this activity to take place without everyone crowding into the same place at same time!

Can I do this with elementary school students? What about primary students? Do you think these activities are more suitable for teenagers?

My students were a mixture of teenagers and adults (aged 16 – 45), and activities were definitely suitable for both age groups. Essentially, we’re talking about using QR codes as a prompt to a language activity, remember. I can see this working with younger students as well (primary and elementary school), assuming your students have access to mobile devices. In the case of younger learners, they are unlikely to have their own mobile phones. But if your school invests in a ‘class set’ of mobile devices (for example, low cost Android tablets) students could use one tablet per pair to read QR codes which give them tasks suitable to their age and language level. For example, for primary school students, imagine they’ve been learning vocabulary for colours, simple adjective or shapes in class. You could have QR codes asking them to use the mobile device to take photos of things of different colours, sizes or shapes. Each QR code task might say something like: ‘Take a photo of something red’, ‘Take a photo of something small’, ‘Take a photo of something square’, etc.

Thanks to everyone who came to the webinar! And good luck if you decide to try out any of the webinar mobile activities with your own students!

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.


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Giving children more agency in class

shutterstock_336098690Annamaria Pinter is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Applied Linguistics in the University of Warwick and she is the author of Teaching Young language Learners (2nd edition, 2017). To find out more about Annamaria Pinter’s work, you can download sample material from ‘Teaching Young Language Learners’.

Agency and Structure

In all situations of life, at work, at home, on holiday or on a shopping trip, we can exercise some choice or ‘agency’ about what we wish to do. At the same time, however, we are usually constrained by systems around us. For example, when driving home from work, the route we take is our decision, but our choices will be constrained by systems such as the traffic, the layout of the road system or by how much time we can devote to the journey.

In schools too, children as well as teachers, can exercise some agency but they are also controlled by the systems in place. Children are told when they can sit down and stand up, when they can leave the classroom, how long each break is and when it is their turn to answer a question. In fact, children traditionally have very little agency because teachers and adults control almost all the aspects of their lives.

This control is because schools are highly structured organisations and look like pyramids. In a pyramid or ‘coercive’ structure there is inequality of power and those at the top impose their order.   Less structured or ‘normative’ organisations look more like networks where there is less hierarchy and engagement is more voluntary.

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Children taking more control

In this webinar I will be exploring what teachers can do to move away from classrooms that look like pyramids to classrooms that function more like networks of learners. I will be suggesting that when teachers are ready to give over some agency and control, children are very much capable of making informed choices for themselves about their learning and taking responsibility for their actions. More agency in learning comes with higher levels of motivation, self-awareness and a sense of accomplishment.

I will be sharing some real classroom examples from a variety of contexts and countries where children have been encouraged to take more control. Some examples indicate how giving children just a little more agency than usual can make a big difference.

I will be taking examples that illustrate how some children may become interested in exploring their own classrooms and their learning and given the agency and the opportunity, they can become co-researcher or researchers. In doing so, we will look at the differences are between academic research in universities, teachers’ research undertaken in classrooms and children’s research.

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Small changes can lead to big outcomes

It is important to acknowledge that different teachers may want to offer more or less agency to their learners depending on their circumstances and there are no rules to follow. Encouraging children to become researchers is not a feasible goal for everyone and certainly not every child will be interested in this. Giving children more agency in some classrooms might just mean offering some opportunities of choice between different activities or regularly encouraging children to recommend materials and ideas to the teacher. Many teachers are constrained heavily regarding how much agency they can offer in their classrooms but even a small first step can eventually go a long way!

If you are interested in exploring these ideas in more detail and you would like to see the practical examples please join us on 20/21 April 2017.

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Further reading

Pinter A and S Zandian 2014 I don’t ever want to leave this room- researching with children ELT Journal  68/1: 64-74.

Kellett M 2010 Rethinking Children and Research London: Continuum


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Assessment for the Language Classroom – Q&A Session

proofreading for English language students in EAPProfessor Anthony Green is Director of the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment at the University of Bedfordshire. He is a Past  President of the International Language Testing Association (ILTA). He has published on language assessment and in his most recent book Exploring Language Assessment and Testing (Routledge, 2014) provides teachers with an introduction to this field. Professor Green’s main research interests are teaching, learning, and assessment. Today, we share some of the questions and answers asked of Tony during his recent webinar, Assessment for the Language Classroom.

 

Should placement tests be given without students’ doing any preparation so that we can see their natural level in English?

Ideally, placement tests should not need any special preparation. The format and types of question on the test should be straightforward so that all students can understand what they need to do.

How should the feedback from progress tests be given? Should we give it individually or work with the whole class?

It’s great if you have time for individual feedback, but working with the whole class is much more efficient. Of course good feedback does not usually just involve the teacher talking to the class and explaining things, but encouraging students to show how they think. Having students working together and teaching each other can often help them to understand concepts better.

Besides proficiency exams, are there any tools to compare the students’ level to the CEFR? How I can evaluate them according to the CEFR? For example, a B2 student should be able to do this and that.

One of the aims of the CEFR is to help teachers and students to understand their level without using tests. Students can use the CEFR to judge their own level, to see what people can use languages for at different levels of ability and to evaluate other peoples’ performance. The European Language Portfolio (http://www.coe.int/en/web/portfolio) is a great place to start looking for ideas on using the CEFR in the classroom.

Practice tests can be practice in class, where students are asked to practice with new points of language…right?

I think this kind of test would be what I called a progress test. Progress tests give students extra practice with skills or knowledge taught in class as well as checking that they have understood and can apply those skills.

Ideas for testing lesson progress?

Course books and their teachers’ guides have a lot of good suggestions and materials you can use for assessment. There are also some good resource books available with ideas for teachers. I would (of course) recommend my own book, Exploring Language Assessment and Testing (published by Routledge) and (a bit more theoretical) Focus On Assessment by Eunice Jang, published by Oxford University Press.

Why does level B1 always take a longer time to teach? I notice from the books we use…there is B1 and B1+.

The six CEFR levels A1 to C2 can be divided up into smaller steps. In the CEFR there are ‘plus’ levels at A2+, B1+ and B2+. In some projects I have worked on we have found it useful to make smaller steps – such as A1.1, A1.2, A1.3. Generally, real improvements in your language ability take longer as you progress. Thinking just about vocabulary, the difference between someone who knows no words and someone who knows 100 words of a language is very big: the person who knows a few words can do many more things with the language than the person who knows none. But the difference between someone who knows 5,000 words and the person who knows 5,100 words is tiny.

Could you please tell us more about assessment?

I’d love to! At the moment I am working with some colleagues around Europe on a free online course for teachers. Our project is called TALE and you can follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TALEonlinetrainingcourse/

What CEFR aligned placement test would you recommend?

The best placement test is the one that works most effectively for your students. I’m happy to recommend the Oxford Online Placement Test (OOPT), but whatever system you use, please keep a record of how often teachers and students report that a student seems to be in the wrong class. If you find one placement system is not very useful, do try to find a better one.

How reasonable is to place the keys to the tests in students books?

In the webinar I said that different tests have different purposes. If the test is for students to check their own knowledge, it would be strange not to provide the answers. If the test results are important and will be used to award grades or certificates, it would be crazy to give the students the answers!

Is cheating an issue with online placement tests?

Again, the answer is ‘it depends’. If cheating is likely to be a problem, security is needed. Online tests can be at least as secure as paper and pencil tests, but if it is a test that students can take at home, unsupervised, the opportunity to cheat obviously exists.

Could you please explain how adaptive comparative judgement tests work? Which students are to be compared?

Adaptive comparative judgement (ACJ) is a way of scoring performances on tests of writing and speaking. Traditionally, examiners use scales to judge the level of a piece of student work. For example, they read an essay, look at the scale and decide ‘I think this essay matches band 4 on the scale’.

ACJ involves a group of judges just comparing work produced by learners. Rather than giving scores on a predetermined scale, each judge looks at a pair of essays (or letters, or presentations etc.) and uses their professional judgement to decide which essay is the better of the two.

Each essay is then paired, and compared, with a different essay from another student. The process continues until each essay has been compared with several others. ACJ provides the technology for the rating of Speaking and Writing responses via multiple judgements. The results are very reliable and examiners generally find it easier to do than rating scales. Take a look at the website nomoremarking.com to learn more.

Besides the CEFR, what we can use to evaluate students in a more precise way?

See my answer to the last question for one interesting suggestion. A more traditional suggestion is working together with other teachers to agree on a rating scale to use with your students. Then have training sessions (where you compare the marks you each award to the same written texts or recordings of student work) to make sure you all understand and use the scale in the same way.

Can you suggest applications for correcting MCQ tests?

Online test resources like the ones at www.oxfordenglishtesting.com include automatic marking of tests. For making your own, one free online system I like is called Socrative.

How can placement tests be applied in everyday classrooms where they are split-level classes and students with disabilities learning together with others? What about people with some sort of disability/impairment (eg. dyslexia)

Sometimes there are good reasons to mix up learners of different levels within a class – and tests are not always the most suitable means of deciding which students should be in which class. Where learners have special needs, decisions about placement may involve professional judgement, taking into consideration the nature of their needs and the kinds of support available. In most circumstances placement should be seen as a provisional decision, if teachers and learners feel that one class is not suitable, moving to another class should be possible.

What about just giving a practice test before a major summative assessment at the end of a semester?

Yes, that seems a good idea. If students aren’t familiar with the test, they may perform poorly because they get confused by the instructions or misjudge the time available. Having a little practice is usually helpful.

If you missed Tony’s or any of our other PD webinars, why not explore our webinar library? We update our recordings regularly.


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#WorldBookDay – 5 steps to becoming an effective storyteller

shutterstock_357633884Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Today, to celebrate World Book Day, he joins us to discuss why being an effective storyteller matters in the EFL classroom, and how you can employ tactics to become a better storyteller yourself.

Extensive reading, the idea of reading for pleasure and not just as a school subject is believed to have wide ranging benefits. Professor Richard Day claims that Extensive Reading not only improves students reading skills but it also improves their vocabulary skills, their grammar skills, their listening and speaking skills. But how do we get our students interested in reading for pleasure. It’s the teacher’s job to motivate and facilitate reading. What we do in class can influence the students. That’s where storytelling comes in. Storytelling can be students first exposure to literature, and effective storytelling can capture the students’ imagination and help them fall in love with stories.  This blog looks at how you can become an effective storyteller in the English language classroom.

  1. The better you know a story the more you can improvise and the more you can involve the students. Read it to yourself two or three times and then practise telling it in front of a mirror. It is much better if you can tell the story rather than reading it, but don’t feel you have to completely memorise it; I often have the book in my hand as a crutch and look at it when I need to.
  2. The work you do before you tell the story can be as important as the story itself. For example, I was telling Rumpelstiltskin from Classic Tales recently. In this story there is a spinning wheel. This might not be a concept your students have come across. So using the pictures from the book, actions, and explanations is crucial to your students understanding. You can also use the pictures in the book to elicit different emotions. In the same book the girl is worried, then upset, then happy. Ask the students why she feels that way.
  3. Your voice is your most valuable tool. Change the tone or pitch to reflect happy and sad moments, whisper and shout if you need to. Also, try to have different voices for different characters. If you can’t do this then, change your position when you change characters. For example, when the main hero is speaking, I will stand in the middle of the room but when it’s the villain’s turn, I will move to the left or right.
  4. If your students are involved in the story, they will feel like they own it. We can involve the students in many ways. For example;
    • ask students to do actions throughout the story. For example, if it is raining in the story, they can pat their legs to show the rain. If someone is crying in the story, the students can rub their eyes. If someone is brushing their hair, etc. This total physical response story telling will help students to understand and remember the words in the story.
    • are there lines in the story that are often repeated? If so, get your students to say the lines each time they come up.
    • are there animals in the story? If so, ask your students to do the animal noises.
    • ask questions. Ask how the students would feel in the character’s shoes, ask what the weather is like, ask them to describe the animals, ask them what happens next.
  5. Enjoy yourself! If you don’t look like you are having a good time, then your students won’t enjoy it. Put energy and wonder into your voice. Look surprised how the story progresses, look happy when the main character is happy and worried when the main character is in trouble. Remember it might be the twelfth time you’ve read the story, but it is the first time for your students.

The last piece of advice I’ll offer is to be patient with yourself. No one is a faultless storyteller the first time they try. Practise makes perfect, so don’t worry, have a go. Each time you do it you will see new ways to include the students or change your voice or bring humour to the story. And remember, you don’t have to tell the story exactly how it is in the book. In fact, this can be useful, the students can then read the text later and try to spot the differences. Happy storytelling.


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Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges

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

Using Mobile Devices with Students Effectively in the Classroom

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

Pedagogical considerations

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

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

Logistical considerations

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

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

Technical considerations

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

Classroom considerations

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

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

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

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