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7 Steps to Assessing Skills in the Secondary Classroom

Take 21st Century Skills to the next level! Read our latest position paper.

Teecher giving feedback to teenagers

There have been numerous mentions of the importance of focusing on skills, such as building resilience, self-control, empathy, curiosity, love of learning, etc. in the EFL classroom. We are becoming more and more aware of what these are and how to help our students develop in these areas. However, as these skills are all subjective and seem completely intangible, as teachers we tend to refrain from even considering assessing these. After teaching a set of vocabulary or a grammar point, we are naturally used to evaluating improvement through different tests or tasks, but how do we assess the development of skills such as collaboration or self-control?

Why do we need to assess these?

Most education systems still put more emphasis on academic knowledge, assessed through tests by grades, so students might have the impression that this is all they need for their future. We also need to assess a variety of other skills in the EFL classroom to shed light on the importance of these for our students. This can demonstrate how being creative, co-operative or accepting helps students to live a more successful and happier life outside the classroom, beyond learning a language. It is also key to involve all the stakeholders, such as parents and colleagues, in this process. Let them know which skills you have been working on, the ones where your students shine and which ones they might need more support in other classes as well as in the home environment. Careful and on-going assessment of these skills, therefore, becomes equally paramount as assessing language knowledge and application.

The key in this assessment process is engaging the students themselves in helping them realise their own potential so that they can take responsibility for their improvement. Teacher assessment and guidance also plays a vital role in this developmental process. Above all, we need to empower students to be able to set learning goals for themselves, reflect and analyse their own behaviour and draw up action plans that suit their learning preferences. Here are a few tips on how this can be achieved.

How can we assess these skills?

We can help students improve in these areas by using the Assessment For Learning framework that “…is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide: where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Assessment reform group (2002)

 

1. Brainstorm skills used for particular tasks

After setting a collaborative language task, ask students to brainstorm skills they might need for success by imagining the process. For example, a group project where students have to come up with a survey questionnaire, conduct the survey and present their findings through graphs. Students might suggest teamwork, openness towards different ideas, listening to each other, etc. If you can think of other important skills, add these to the list (e.g. creativity in coming up with good questions, ways in which they represent their findings, etc.) Students can assess themselves, or each other, with this check-list at the end of the task, but it could also become a reference list to refer to throughout the process. Make sure there are not more than five skills at this stage, to make self-reflection and peer-assessment manageable.

2. Reflect and Predict.

Ask students to identify their current emotional state, as this might play an important role in their ability to use specific skills. Follow this up with questions to predict their competence in each skill area, on a scale from 1 to 5 (1=not at all…5=very well). Students can use their answers as a quiet self-reflective task or the basis of group discussion.

“How do I feel right now?”

“How well will I be able to work with others? Why?” 

“How patient will I be with others? Why?”

“How creative will I be with ideas?”

Getting students to reflect and predict their use of such skills from time to time gives them more focus and helps them become more self-aware. It is important to encourage students to do this without any judgement, simply as a way to evaluate their current feelings and self-image.

3. Reflective questionnaires

The same questions as above can be used at the end of a task too as a way for students to reflect on how they used the particular skills retrospectively. This can then form the basis of a group discussion in which students share their experiences. Remind students that it is important that they offer their full attention to each other during the discussion without any judgement.

4. Setting weekly personal goals

Once students become acquainted with such self-reflective practice, you can ask them at the beginning of the week to set personal goals for themselves depending on the area they feel needs some improvement. To encourage students to set these goals, it is a good idea to share some of your own personal goals for the week first. For example, you can tell them ‘This week I aim to be more open and curious, rather than having concrete ideas about how things should turn out in my lessons.’ Modelling such behaviour can become the main drive for students to be able to set their own personal goals.

5. Using rubrics.

Design assessment rubrics for the main skills being used for self and peer-assessment. Create these as a whole group task, getting input from the students. This could also serve as an assessment tool for the teacher.

6. Peer-observation and skills assessment

As students are motivated and learn a lot through observing each other, you can set peer-observation and assessment tasks for particular tasks, say role-plays or group discussions. Put students in groups and ask them to agree on who the observer is going to be. It is key that there is a consensus on this. Then give the observer a checklist of the skills in focus, where they can make note of how they see the behaviour of their peers. The observer does not contribute to the group task, only observes the behaviour of their peers. At the end of the group task, the observer tells their peers about the things they noted.

7. End-of-term tutorials

At the end of the term, it is a good idea to have a few minutes individually with students and using the checklist and the questions mentioned in points 1,2 and 3 above to discuss how they see their development in the skills in focus. This shows students the importance of these skills and gives them a sense of security and self-assurance of ‘I matter’. It may be challenging to find the time to do this for most of us, teachers. Allocating two weeks for the tutorials with a specific time-window can give you a manageable time-frame, however. The tutorials can then be conducted either during lesson time while you set some free tasks – say watching a film in English – for students to do and/or a couple of hours in the afternoons after school, for which students sign up in ten-minute chat-slots with the teacher.

 

Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses a skills-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:

Find out more

 


 

Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, 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. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.

Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).


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A Complete Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning

teacher and students in discussionEvery teacher would love to see their students totally engrossed in the task at hand, asking meaningful and pertinent questions, and then looking for the answers themselves.  Sound like an impossible dream? Perhaps not!  Inquiry-based learning seeks to do just that – engaging students in their learning process by having them asking questions that are meaningful for them and then helping them to find the answers.

 

What is inquiry-based learning?

We all know that engaging students in their learning process improves their learning.  Having students listening quietly to our explanations and then asking questions usually produces complete silence, and maybe another long explanation on our part.  Inquiry-based learning turns this process around, presenting students with an interesting topic, helping them identify what they already know, and then having them ask the questions that are important to know more.

 

What is the teacher’s role?

This doesn’t mean that the teacher’s role ends with presenting a topic. On the contrary, there is an important and central role for the teacher to play.  It simply has been removed from center stage to the side or back of the room, a role more of monitor and facilitator than only that of a provider of information.  It is important to identify where the students’ questions are taking them and make sure that they aren’t coming up with misinformation or a wrong idea about how the world, and English, work!

 

Empowering students to shape their future

What will students need more in the future, the ability to take notes and repeat what the teacher tells them, or to be able to find answers to questions that are important for them? I think we can all agree on the second reason.

Part of this involves having students work together collaboratively, to develop the skills needed to work with others, with each person making key contributions to solving the task.

 

Getting started

Many teachers find it difficult to let go of control in the class, perhaps thinking that their students don’t have the necessary level of maturity or motivation to work in a more self-directed way.  This might come from our previous experience when we have tried to encourage greater student autonomy and not found a very positive response.

Large classes and strict supervision from authorities might strengthen this idea that a more student-centered class is not possible.

I would encourage you to try an inquiry-based approach in developing a learner-centered environment. It doesn’t have to be a choice of all or nothing at all but can be done in small steps.   Try starting by having your students be the ones to ask a question about the topic the lesson centers on.  If the topic is Wild animals, have them each write down something they know about wild animals and something they would like to find out about them.  Using K-W-L charts is an excellent way to help them visualize the information.

 

Seeing the benefits

Using inquiry-based learning in the classroom will help your students feel more engaged in the class, and more in charge of their own learning process.  They realize that they are learning things they want to know, rather than just mechanically repeating what someone else thinks they should know. This will encourage them to see learning as a life-long activity, rather than just some boring classroom requirement.

 

Inquiry-based learning in the Secondary classroom

Secondary age learners are more mature and aware of their learning than younger learners. This can help develop greater autonomy in these learners.  Providing opportunities to reflect on their learning is also important at this age.  This can be done through self-assessment activities, or specifically designed questions that allow students to see their progress, and how they made that progress. Fostering these aspects (autonomy and reflection) can increase their motivation for learning in general, and learning English in particular.  They can also see a closer link to what they are learning and what happens in their lives outside of school, opening their awareness of global skills that they need to acquire.  Providing our learners with more opportunities to experiment with the language, and make decisions themselves also shifts the responsibility of learning to the learners themselves.

 

Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses an inquiry-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:

 

Find out more

 

Barbara Bangle is originally from the United States but has lived and worked in Mexico for many years. She is the former director of the CELe language institute at the University of the State of Mexico (UAEMex) and has spent the past 35 years both teaching English and working in the field of Teacher Education.


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Mobile Learning for Language Development | Nik Peachey

As a novice teacher in North Africa in the early 90s, I remember clearly dissecting English language newspapers and magazines and scouring the local shops for bootlegged English language audio cassettes to find interesting content to base activities on for my students.

I also remember carrying around a bag of audio cassettes which my students would use to record their learning diary entries on and which I would take home to listen to before recording my reply and taking them back for them the next lesson. I guess this is why I find it baffling when I hear about schools or classrooms where students are being asked to turn off or not bring their mobile phones and devices.

I understand that competing with the screen can be a challenge. The apps that students use on these devices have been designed by people who have researched just how to distract and grab people’s attention, but I feel that the best way to grab their attention back is to start training students how to use the devices in a ways that will enhance their learning both in and out of class. One of the first things that we could do as teachers is help students take control of their devices, by turning off notifications for example (at least during lessons). Removing screen notifications as well as noises and vibrations will help prevent unwanted distractions.

Next, we need to help them put their mobile device to good use.

We can use a backchannel to connect our students and enable us to share and exchange digital materials with students during the class. A backchannel could be a simple chatroom that all students can enter. We can paste hyperlinks to articles, videos, audios, activities and worksheets into this room and then students can instantly access the content without having to type in long URLs or search Google. I use http://backchannelchat.com/ for all of my classes. They have a browser version as well as a mobile app that students can download for free. The app has been adapted for educational use, and as a teacher, I can easily control the chatroom by moderating messages and pinning tasks to the top of the room.

At the end of a lesson, students can download notes from the backchannel and save any useful links, comments, new vocabulary or documents.

We can use apps like Mentimeter to make our lessons more interactive. This is just one of many classroom response apps that enables teachers to deliver quizzes, polls Q&A sessions and even brainstorming tasks to students’ devices during the lesson. It also gives instant feedback that teachers can display on the whiteboard. I’ve used Mentimeter to get students brainstorming vocabulary into an interactive word cloud. This is great as they can see the word cloud changing as they add their words. We can also use it to do comprehension and concept checking and know exactly how many of our students are getting the answers right.

We can also start building multimedia lessons that are rich in graphics and images and which link directly to web-based resources. https://www.genial.ly is just one of many tools that we can use to create visually engaging materials that students can access on their digital devices. This is an example of a lesson I built for a group of students to get them to plan a fictional trip to Cambridge. They have a range of resources that they need to explore and which help them to find images, locations on a map, weather information, and interesting places and events. As they explore these resources, they can use the information they gather to plan a three-day trip together. Using the QR code at the beginning of the lesson, they can scan the materials directly onto their mobile device and access all of the links and instructions directly.

These are just a few of the many ways students can use their devices in the classroom to enhance their learning. In my webinar, we looked at many more and also investigated some of the apps they can use outside the classroom too. To find out more you can watch the recorded session here:

Watch the recording


Nik Peachey has worked all over the world as a language teacher, teacher trainer, technology trainer, and educational technology consultant. He is an award-winning course designer, materials writer, and author


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Teaching Beyond the 4Cs in the Secondary Classroom | 21st Century Skills

The 4CsThe development of the 4Cs – the skills of Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration – has been around in education and English language teaching for some time now. This has influenced coursebook design, our everyday teaching, and our general attitude towards teaching and learning. As I was planning tasks for the development of these 4 key skills in my own teaching, I have always felt the need for (and I am sure many of you have had the same experience) a broader layer that encompasses these as well as a number of other skills that are just as important for our fast-paced world, where students need to be empowered to shape their own futures. The challenges I’ve faced recently with my teenage students such as lack of motivation, interest, poor attention span, higher emotional instability, being easily distracted, have led me to look for solutions.

I discovered that natural curiosity, love of learning, self-control, resilience, self-reflection, and humour to name a few are just as important in preparing our students for lifelong success. Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman in their article “The science of practice and self-control” discovered that self-control ‘outdoes’ talent in predicting academic success during adolescence. Since then, a surfeit of longitudinal evidence has affirmed the importance of self-control to achieving everyday goals that conflict with momentary temptations”. According to a number of researchers of positive education, all these skills together with the 4 Cs fall under the development of character strengths and virtues.

With this broader framework in mind, I found it a lot easier to design and select appropriate teaching materials and tasks for my teenage students.

One of my favourite ways of approaching a topic developing the 4Cs and beyond is through questioning.

  1. I give students the main words or ideas of the unit, for example, ‘remember’, “memory”, ‘remind’ and ‘forget’. I then ask them to brainstorm questions using these words and the question’s words ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ in pairs or small groups. They might come up with questions like ‘What do we remember?’, ‘How do we remember?’, ‘Why do we forget?’, and ‘What do we need to do to remember?’
  2. Then I ask them to choose two or three questions that they feel would be interesting to find the answer to.
  3. In the next stage, I re-group them to discuss the answers to the questions of their choice, giving them ideas of where to look for answers if they are stuck. This tends to be the longest most engaging stage of the exercise as it taps into their natural curiosity and their desire to find answers to the questions posed by their peers.
  4. Students then go back to their original groups to collect the answers together. These can be represented on posters that can evolve and expand while working around the specific topic, including all the experiments and discoveries they may personally make along this learning journey. They should make notes of the unanswered questions with an aim to seek answers to these as well.
  5. The posters are displayed and revisited from time to time as further questions or answers start to surface. It’s a good idea at this stage to ask students to read each other’s questions and answers, prompting them to look for interesting ideas or to simply express their opinions.
  6. Towards the end, I try to make students aware of what they’ve learnt, as well as get them to reflect on how they felt, the effort they have put into it, their level of engagement, etc.

If you look back at the tasks set above, students are given several opportunities to build not only their creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills, but they also develop a love of learning, perseverance, tolerating ambiguity, etc. in an engaging and meaningful way.


Erika Osváth 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 co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed-Ability Teaching.


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5 English Teaching apps for 21st Century ESL Teachers

Language learning no longer stops when students leave the classroom.

Smartphones allow language learners to carry the entire English language around with them in their pocket, soaking up new vocabulary through music, video, games, and social media.

A new wave of apps have launched designed specifically for those teachers and students keen to harness their mobile devices to create more structured and comprehensive learning experiences outside of the classroom. Make sure you have the latest! Here are 5 essential apps from Oxford University Press that you and your students need to download.

 

  1. Say It: English Pronunciation – Hear the Oxford English model, see the soundwave, then record and compare your pronunciation. Comes with 100 free British English words, 4 tests and 12 sounds, taken from the best-selling English File course and Oxford’s dictionaries. It’s quick, effective and fun to use.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. LingoKids – A learning app for students from 2 to 8 years of age, for learning English in a fun, playful way. In Lingokids you’ll find the best English songs for children, the most fun videos with its characters, audiobooks, and printable worksheets for each topic, interactive exercises, and an endless supply of activities to learn over 3,000 words in English. Here are 10 ways you could use LingoKids with your students. If you’re using Mouse and Me, Jump in! or Show and Tell, you can access course content on the app using your coursebook!

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Oxford Collocations Dictionary – Perfect for your learners that need to improve their accuracy and fluency, enabling them to express their ideas naturally and convincingly whether spoken or written. The Oxford Collocations Dictionary has over 250,000 word combinations, all based on analysis of the Oxford English Corpus.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – a digitised edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary that has already helped 100 million English language learners worldwide. This app shows learners what words mean, learn how to say them with high quality audio, and know how to use them in example sentences.

Available on iOS

Available on Android

 

  1. Practical English Usage – Practical English Usage is a world bestseller and a vital reference tool that helps teachers and higher-level learners with common language problems in English. Practical English Usage Fourth Edition is now available as an app, making it quicker and easier to look up the 600+ entries!

Coming soon for Android and iOS devices.

 

Extra apps that are worth exploring.

  • YouTube Kids – YouTube Kids is a safer and simpler way for kids to explore the world through online video – from their favourite shows and music to learning how to build a model volcano, and everything in between. There’s also a whole suite of parental controls, so you can tailor the experience to your family’s needs.
  • TinyTap – TinyTap offers the world’s largest collection of educational games, all handmade by teachers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for…create it yourself! On TinyTap, anyone can turn their ideas into educational games (without having to code) and share them with the world.
  • Google Expeditions – This is a virtual reality teaching tool that lets you lead or join immersive virtual trips all over the world — get up close with historical landmarks, dive underwater with sharks, even visit outer space! Built for the classroom and small group use, Google Expeditions allows a teacher acting as a “guide” to lead classroom-sized groups of “explorers” through collections of 360° and 3D images while pointing out interesting sights along the way. Instant, personalised audio-visual feedback will help your students identify precisely what they need to improve. They can even share the recording and the soundwave image of their pronunciation with you via email, directly from the app.
  • Flipgrid – Flipgrid helps learners of all ages find their voices, share their voices and respect the diverse voices of others. Educators spark discussions by posting Topics to a classroom, school, professional learning community, or public Grid. Students record, upload, view, react, and respond to each other through short videos. Flipgrid empowers student voice and builds global empathy through shared learning processes, stories and perspectives.

Interest in Mobile Apps for English Language Teaching?

Read Nik’s Focus Paper on Mobile Apps for English Language Teaching for more practical tips on mobile learning and useful apps for the ELT classroom!