Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


Leave a comment

Being a dyslexic English language teacher | Philip Haines

As a child I had difficulty reading and writing and some teachers would make me feel less than intelligent which often led to anxiety and low self-esteem, if I thought my limitations were to be exposed. This was especially true when I had to read aloud, which was the perfect opportunity for the rest of the class to observe my apparent stupidity. I was subsequently diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 15.

Having experienced language difficulties as a child, the thought of being an English teacher never crossed my mind. However, when I moved from the UK to Mexico my only real job prospect was English language teaching. I started as an English teaching rather reluctantly, but soon found that I was quite good at it. I believe that this is partly a consequence of my dyslexia. I can see three ways in which dyslexia has helped me as a language teacher.

Patience

The fact that some people need to devote a lot of time and effort to learning has always been obvious to me. If a student needs to hear, see and practice a piece of language many times, then it is my job to provide that for the student. If in the following classes more work is needed, then I accept this as being perfectly normal. Learning takes as long as it takes and getting frustrated doesn’t help anybody, least of all the students who need the most support.

Strategic awareness

As an adult I still can’t spell very well, but like many dyslexic adults I have developed strategies for remembering certain spellings. Non-dyslexic people seem to learn to spell with little conscious effort. I, on the other hand, have to approach the spelling of most words with a deliberate strategy. This has given me a level of strategic awareness for spelling that most non-dyslexic people have never had to develop. I incorporate these strategies into my teaching when needed.

Creativity

Although creativity is not exclusive to the dyslexic mind, I have a fairly good level of creativity, which comes partly from having to develop learning strategies. Also as a child I found comfort in the arts and crafts because my learning difficulties were never exposed. It’s so true that we become good at what we enjoy, and more often than not that’s because we devote more time and effort to those activities. In this context, my creative abilities had a chance to develop. Being creative in teaching has its advantages because it helps the teacher respond to the ever changing dynamics of the classroom. It also makes you feel comfortable with the creative process, which inevitably involves getting things wrong many times before finding the right solution. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, creativity in the classroom makes for a more engaging and fun teaching and learning experience.

Interested in inclusive teaching? Our latest position paper offers teachers some great tools and strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties. Click here to take a look.


Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.


1 Comment

Learning difficulties in the ELT classroom: How to identify them and what to do

As an English Language teacher you may have students with unidentified additional learning needs in your classroom. Often these learning difficulties are ‘invisible’, not easy to recognise in class, or hidden behind other issues such as poor behaviour, and an apparent lack of motivation.

Identifying ‘invisible’ learning difficulties

Difficulties which have not been identified by any formal assessment can surface in a variety of ways. They may first appear in an English Language class because the focus is on activities that require students to communicate and interact with other students, using all four skills of listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Although it is not the teacher’s job to diagnose learning difficulties, it’s important to know how to recognise when a student might be struggling because of a learning difficulty.

General indicators

Indicators that students might be experiencing difficulties greater than expected for their age and level include:

  • having problems understanding and following instructions
  • finding it difficult to concentrate and being easily distracted
  • having difficulty with tasks which require fine or gross motor skills
  • being able to speak much more fluently than they can write
  • finding it difficult to start tasks or never managing to finish them
  • avoiding doing tasks
  • having problems participating in whole-class or group activities
  • appearing not to listen, or not responding to questions or instructions
  • having problems making friends and maintaining relationships.

These indicators reflect three main issues : Behavioural, Communication, Social Skills

Behavioural   

Learning difficulties often first present themselves in classes through poor behaviour and non-compliance or non-completion of tasks. Many of these issues relate to impaired working memory. Working memory is the part of your brain which holds information long enough to act on it. When working memory is impaired, students find it difficult to remember and act upon instructions, to copy things down correctly from the board, to remember what they have just read in a reading text. This shows up in class as

  • Not writing things down properly or avoiding writing down from the board
  • Not following instructions or continually asking what they should do
  • Appearing to switch off when reading longer texts and losing focus very quickly
  • Appearing disorganised and forgetful

Communication issues

Learning difficulties can also show up as communication issues. They can occur in receptive language (understanding) and/or expressive language (producing). Students find it difficult to understand what they have to do or to show what they know. It can lead to students having difficulties in communicating with the teacher and their peers. They may not want to work in groups, appearing withdrawn and isolated, sometimes not understanding humour or everyday conversation.

Social skills issues

Social skills issue can relate to language issues or social and emotional difficulties. Students may have problems taking turns, showing empathy, and understanding other students’ perspectives. As the language classroom operates on social interactions, lessons can present a real challenge to these students.

These indicators do not necessarily mean a student does not care about learning. They can be indicators of students with additional needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit, speech, and language difficulties or ASC (autistic spectrum condition).

However, most students experience some of these difficulties from time to time. If you’re concerned about a student in your class, gather objective information about how often the problems occur and how serious they are. Consider:

  • Is the problem across all classes and at all times of day?
  • Is the problem in certain class groupings?
  • Where is the child sitting? Can they hear and see properly?
  • Who is the child sitting with? Does this make a difference?
  • What kinds of tasks can the child do?
  • When the child is engaged, what engages them?
  • Is the work too easy or too difficult? How do you know?
  • Does the work involve a lot of writing? Sitting still? Copying from the board?
  • Is the child only noticed for negative things? What are their strengths?
  • Does the child have trouble following instructions?
  • Does the child have trouble remembering visual and/or auditory information?

Teaching principles

The important thing to remember is that all students need to feel safe and valued in their class. Good teachers provide this for all their students by maintaining positive relationships, clear structure, routines, consistency and clarity.

Use a multi-sensory approach for teaching and checking understanding. For example,  give instructions with visuals, gestures and words, use different ways to check understanding such as mini whiteboards and traffic lights signals. Use visual icons on your board to show the order of teaching in your lesson.

Focus on developing positive relationships with your students. Notice if you are only interacting negatively with some students, those for example, who are always causing disruptions or are slow to respond. Get to know them as people, beyond any labels. Every student is unique and different and brings something important to the class. Avoid jumping to assumptions that they are ‘lazy’ or ‘don’t care’.

Use an assessment for learning approach, such as 2 stars and a wish, where you encourage students to focus on their own progress against specific criteria rather than on overall attainment levels.

Celebrate their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. These can be academic or personal strengths, such as kindness, perseverance, and good humour.

Create an inclusive ethos in class. To do this, try using class contracts which are value driven rather than rules driven. ‘In this class we give people extra time if they need it’. ’In this class we help each other.’

Use the English class to develop social skills in all students. Try activities like ‘find 5 things in common with your partner, or ‘5 things which are different’, this creates a sense of belonging and allows students to celebrate difference.

Remember that it is not your job to diagnose. If you are concerned about a student, gather as much information as you can. Discuss with other teachers to determine whether the difficulties are only in English, or are also in other lessons. Find out whom in your school is responsible for additional learning needs, typically a school psychologist, special educational needs co-ordinator or manager responsible for learning should be there to talk through your concerns.

For more on identifying and working with students with learning difficulties, join me for my upcoming webinar on the 20th June 2018. After the webinar you’ll understand the most common signs of learning difficulties, and will know how you to best work with students affected by them.

webinar registration button


 

Marie Delaney is a teacher trainer, educational psychotherapist, and director of The Learning Harbour, educational consultancy, in Cork, Ireland. She worked for many years with students of all ages who have SEN, in particular in the area of behavioural difficulties. She has worked with Ministries of Education and trained teachers in several countries on inclusion policy, curriculum, and inclusive pedagogy. Her main interests are bringing therapeutic approaches into teaching and learning, supporting teachers in their dealings with challenging pupils and promoting inclusive education principles for all. Marie is the author of Special Educational Needs (Oxford University Press, 2016).


1 Comment

Minds Matter: Psychology of language learning | Q&A

Psychology of language learning

Recently, I held three webinars for OUP focusing on the topic of learner psychology. I chose to concentrate on what I termed the 2Gs and 3Cs: Growth mindset and Grit; A sense of Competence, Control, and Connectedness. There were many fascinating questions that came up and I’m afraid time ran out to answer them all. Here I respond to a selection of the key questions related specifically to the talk and connected with each other.

  1. Do we need to address mindsets with adults?

I found this an interesting and important question for two reasons. Yes, we can and should still work on promoting a growth mindset in adults. There is increasing evidence for the plasticity of the brain throughout the lifetime and adults can also adapt, change and learn new skills as they age. However, that is not to say changing mindsets is easily done. As the other name for them, implicit theories, suggests, mindsets are deeply rooted beliefs and we may not always be conscious of them. To change the way we think, especially for those beliefs we may have held for a long time, takes reflection and patience. However, we know that beliefs can change, no matter what our age with awareness, will, practice, and concerted effort.

The second reason I think this question is important concerns its implications for our own mindsets as teachers. It is well known that people may claim to espouse certain beliefs but then their actions may reveal a different set of underlying beliefs. In other words, we may talk the right talk but perhaps don’t walk the corresponding walk! Our behaviours and language as teachers serve as critical models for the implicit messages we send to our learners. Therefore, our own mindsets are incredibly important, not only for our own learning and growth but also for supporting our learners in developing their own mindsets. We need to monitor how we talk about our own learning and abilities as well as those of our learners. Ideally, teachers need to hold a growth mindset about their language learning abilities but also about their pedagogical and didactic competences. We can improve our skills as language educators throughout our career. Growth mindsets about our teaching competences are the foundation of our own continuing professional development. We need to keep an eye on whether we are really walking the talk for our learners and ourselves?

  1. At what point should we create the ‘mistakes most welcome’ culture in our classes?

The culture of a class can be defining for the interpersonal relationships within it, not only between teacher and learners but also among the learners. Research asking learners if they are nervous about speaking in class found that it is not the teacher and their response that makes them nervous, but rather how their peers might respond. For that reason, I think it is vitally important from day 1 of the class to set the right tone helping students to connect as a group with a shared sense of identity, common guiding purpose, and sense of trust. It also means we have to ensure all our learners feel comfortable and confident to explore the language with each other within the group. Learning and growth can only take place when learners push their competences out of their comfort zones and risk making mistakes. As such, mistakes should be welcome in any class when they indicate that the learner is trying to make progress and when they are used as an opportunity to learn. The kind of ‘mistake culture’ we develop concerns how we respond to mistakes, how learners react to each other’s mistakes as well as how they feel about their own mistakes and what action we take in respect to learning from them. Essentially, we can help learners reframe how they think about and respond to mistakes in language use and learning. They can present a learning opportunity and be an outward sign of courageous, progress-oriented learning growth. To support this ‘mistakes most welcome’ culture, we can start on the very first day of class to foster positive group dynamics and develop a cohesive classroom community built on mutual trust and respect.

  1. How is a knowledge of learning strategies useful?

Assuming that learners hold a growth mindset and fundamentally believe that their abilities can improve, they also need other skills in order for that to translate into actual improvement. The beliefs form the foundation on which other dimensions of their psychology and behaviours are built. Having a growth mindset predisposes the learners to being more motivated – it means there is a purpose and potential benefit to investing time and effort in their learning. However, motivation and effort alone are still not enough. Learners also need to have strategic pathways of how they should reach their goals. They need to know how to learn so that their efforts are purposeful, goal-directed and ultimately effective for them as individuals. This suggests that we can support learners by working with them explicitly on their metacognitive knowledge about themselves as learners, as well as about the tasks involved in learning a language and the strategies one could use to approach those tasks. Having knowledge of strategies to manage and regulate learning is empowering for students and, ironically, can also strengthen growth mindsets by showing learners concrete pathways to progress. It actually helps learners to believe they can overcome obstacles and challenges by providing direction and ideas of how to do that. Having a growth mindset and metacognitive knowledge of learning strategies go hand in hand.


Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT methodology and Deputy Head of the Centre for Teaching and Learning in Arts and Humanities. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author and co-editor of several books in this area including, ‘Psychology for Language Learning’.


Leave a comment

Making reading fun: Using graded readers with young learners

There is a famous saying by Dr. Seuss that says: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Anyone who has read a good book knows how  reading can transport us to far and distant places. Not only does reading help us relax, but it also develops our mind, and imagination. Reading has become an essential life skill that helps us interact with the world around us. Equipping our children with effective literacy skills has become a natural and fundamental part of our lives.

However, reading isn’t a skill that we are naturally born with. Whilst it is true that there are some children who are capable of learning to read on their own, the majority of us need to be taught how to read. In most cases children start developing their literacy skills at nursery school, where they start to learn how to decipher the letters of the alphabet. It is only usually at primary school that they begin learning how to read by learning how to apply decoding and blending strategies. Although mastering this skill requires a lot of focused practice both in and out of the classroom, the result is and should be magical.

So how can we, as teachers and parents, promote the love of reading in our children? How can we make it easier for our children to choose a book that appeals to their natural curiosity, as well as their interests? Only with the answers to these questions can we enable them to have a meaningful and personalised reading experience.

Children need to make sense of, and personalise their reading experience.

To do this, get them to develop their creativity skills. Ask them to create a final “product” that reflects upon their reading experience. Rather than relying solely on reading worksheets with comprehension questions (which we can use to test the children’s reading memory), there’s a wider variety of activities out there that we as teachers could use to get an insight into our student’s understanding of the story.

I’ll be exploring this topic, and answering all of the questions above in my upcoming webinar. Please click here to register!

We will also discuss how these activities allow children to take a step further in their language learning process. As children make and present personalised reading activities, they are also learning to apply the language to real world scenarios. By the end of this webinar, you’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll allow your children to experience and share the magic of reading. Afterwards, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, and to share your own valuable experiences with fellow teachers.


Vanessa Esteves has been teaching English as a foreign language in Portugal for the past 23 years in both private and state schools around the country. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação in Porto. She has an M.A. in Anglo-American Studies and has been involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Morocco, Egypt and Portugal. Vanessa is a regular presenter at conferences.


1 Comment

Meditate your way to better teaching

Can meditation and mindfulness really make us better teachers?

Well the mounting evidence suggests yes!

Regular meditation can improve your immune system, energy levels, lower blood pressure, and enhance your sleep. And don’t forget its power to reduce feelings of anxiety or depression!

Over the last decade, various organisations have championed mediation and mindfulness to reduce stress, increase productivity, create calmer working environments, and improve the well-being of their employees. The educational sector is no exception. Meditation programs are now offered in schools worldwide. Many of these programmes focus on the learners, often boasting phenomenal results. A paper published by ‘Carry the Vision (2017)’ found a link between students that practiced meditation and positive emotions, self-identity, greater self-acceptance, and higher optimism. They also experienced lower stress levels, anxiety, and depression (Carry the Vision, 2017).

So the results are promising, but what do they mean practically for teachers? According to the Carry the Vision report, teachers found that meditation practice led to:

  • a more positive learning environment
  • more attentive children who were ready to learn
  • increased working memory, creativity and concentration
  • a way for students to reduce test-related stress and anxiety
  • less anger and aggression (as reported by the students themselves).

What about when the programmes are offered to teachers. According to research, teachers that practise meditation experience a myriad of benefits, including elevated levels of self-compassion, a decrease in anxiety, depression, and improved overall health (which means fewer unexpected sick days). Notably, teachers said that they were better able to concentrate and focus on their job duties.

In a study conducted with 224 teachers in high poverty schools across New York City, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, Jennings (2016) found that teachers trained in meditation reported fewer feelings of anxiety, depression, burnout, and perceived stress. Perhaps even more interestingly for teachers is what came from classroom observations. “Yelling went down,” says Jennings (2016). Classrooms were rated more emotionally positive and productive; overall students were much more engaged.

If teachers know how to reduce stress, stay relaxed and be more present in the classroom, there can be positive effects on personal well-being and the teaching environment.

So, how can we introduce mediation into our classes? Well, to quote Jamie Bristow (2017), “You wouldn’t ask a teacher who can’t swim to teach a swimming class from a textbook,” (2017). If we are interested in bringing meditation and mindfulness into the classroom, we have to start with ourselves!

Missed the webinar? Click here to hear me talking meditation and mindfulness in this webinar recording, and see for yourself the positive effects that they can have on your professional and private life.


Ushapa Fortescue has taught for over 14 years both in the UK and abroad in a variety of contexts, including primary and secondary schools, post 16 adult education, private language schools, Further Education colleges, and Universities. She trains teachers and presents worldwide. Chloe is a qualified meditation facilitator who has lived and worked in meditation centres around the world for the last 13 years. She loves to show teachers how to stay relaxed, engaged, and light-hearted in the classroom.


References

Bristow, J. (2017). How to Avoid A Poorly Designed School Mindfulness Program [online]. Mindful. Available at: www.mindful.org/4-signs-poorly-designed-school-mindfulness-programs/ . Accessed 13/4/18.

Carry the Vision. (2017). Benefits and Research of Meditation in Schools. [online] Available at: http://carrythevision.org/meditation-research-and-benefits/ Accessed 13/4/18.

Jennings, P. (2016). When Teachers Take A Breath, Students Can Bloom. [online]. nprEd. Available at: www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/19/488866975/when-teachers-take-a-breath-students-can-bloom. Accessed 13/4/18.