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Inquiry-based Learning: 4 essential principles for the ELT classroom

teenagers laughing and working togetherAllowing students greater agency in their learning can be a liberating experience. Rather than the teacher as expert, inquiry-based learning allows learners to assume the responsibility of becoming experts of the knowledge they are constructing through a process self-discovery and trial and error, while the teacher’s role is to monitor their students’ process of constructing new meaning and step in when they need help.

This is the very core of inquiry-based learning (IBL), a form of learning where students pose their own research questions about a topic and set out on a journey to answer them. The benefits of inquiry-based learning are many, such as:

  • Supporting students to build their own initiative.
  • Encouraging a deeper understanding of the content.
  • Motivating students to form their own connections about what they learn.
  • Students taking more ownership of their learning and a sense of reward not just from a final product, but from the process of knowledge-making itself.
  • Helping students develop the critical thinking and life skills necessary to be competitive in the 21st century, from problem-solving to effective collaboration and communication (Ismael & Elias, 2006).

IBL is often employed in math and science classrooms, which naturally lend themselves to a problem-solving approach.  (Amaral et al. 2002, Marshall & Horton, 2011). However, the framework certainly has potential for other disciplines as well, including English (Chu et al., 2011). Of course, balancing inquiry-based learning with language learning means that teachers must also attend to the language and vocabulary skills students need to be effective inquisitors. Tweaks to the traditional model can make this become a reality.

Below are four key principles that distinguish an inquiry-based approach, and suggestions on how teachers can scaffold them for the English language classroom.

 

1) Students as Researchers

In a typical inquiry-based learning framework, students are introduced to a topic and tasked with developing their own research questions to guide their process of discovery (Pedaste et al., 2015). In an English language setting, one way to model this is to provide a leading question for the students, choosing one that is open-ended and can lead students in more than one direction. Even yes-no questions can provide such ambiguity, for by doing deeper research, students begin to realize that the answer is not always black-and-white.

Take the question, Are you a good decision maker? We can encourage students to ask related questions that encourage more informed responses:

  • How do people solve problems differently?
  • What emotional and biological factors influence people’s decision making?
  • What role does personality play?  

Students can use WebQuests to find relevant articles and videos to look at the question from multiple perspectives. In a more scaffolded setting, instructors can provide articles and videos to discuss as a class, and ask students to draw out the relevant ideas and identify connections. Either way, the goal is to have students revisit the question each time new information is learned so they can elaborate on and refine their answers, and in doing so, slowly become experts on the topic.

 

2) Teachers as Research Assistants

An inquiry-based learning model often flips the roles of the teacher and student. Students become the researchers, and teachers assume the role of the assistant or guide to their learning (Dobber et al., 2017). One way to encourage this is to flip the classroom itself so that instructional lessons are delivered online, and class time is devoted to students applying what they have learned through practice and collaborative activities.

As language teachers, we can direct students to instructional videos on skills they’ll need to understand and respond to the texts they encounter. An instructional video on how to classify information could support a text about different kinds of problem solvers, for example. Videos on relevant grammatical and language structures can also be assigned. Teachers can then use class time not to present the material, but to attend to students’ questions and curiosities.

 

3) Peer-to-Peer Collaboration

Learning from peers and sharing ideas with others is another core principle of inquiry-based learning. Students in an IBL classroom become each other’s soundboards, which gives them an authentic audience from which to draw alternative perspectives from their own and test the validity of their ideas (Ismael & Elias 2006). Students are meant to collaborate throughout the entire process, from their initial response to the question to the final project. To do this, teachers can pose the leading question on an online discussion board and require peers to respond to each other’s ideas. To scaffold, teachers can provide language used to respond to posts, such how to acknowledge someone else’s ideas (I think you’re saying that…) or show agreement or disagreement (I see your point, but I also wonder…).

Collaboration also takes places through the final project. IBL classrooms typically have students complete the cycle with group projects, such as debates, group presentations, newsletters, and discussions. Even if students are working independently on personal essays, teachers can have them conduct peer reviews for further feedback, and to present their findings and insights to the class, thereby providing them with a wider audience than just the teacher.

 

4) Reflecting on Learning

The final principle is asking students to reflect on their learning (Pedaste et al., 2005). This can be achieved by posing the leading question on the discussion board at the end of the cycle, to see how students’ responses have evolved based on what they’ve learned. Language teachers can also encourage reflection through assessment feedback. If giving a test on the language and skills students have studied, they can go a step further by posing questions about the experience:

  • How difficult did you find the test?
  • Why do you think you made mistakes?
  • What can you do to improve your learning?
  • What can your teacher do?

This helps students identify areas for improvement, and it gives teachers guidance in tailoring their instruction in the future.

In the IBL classroom, students are in the driver’s seat, but teachers are not sitting alone in the back. They’re upfront, in the passenger seat, watching students navigate their way and giving direction when they get lost. The teacher knows that the path of inquiry can take multiple routes and that students will need different tools to get to their final destination. With proper scaffolding, teachers can make the voyage for English language learners more successful, and in the process, create a cohort of lifelong inquisitors.

 

For a demonstration of how Q: Skills for Success Third Edition uses IBL to create independent and inquisitive learners, please join my Webinar on the 20th February 2020, where we will be looking at how the series and its resources scaffold the four principles of IBL both in and outside the classroom.

Register for the webinar

 


 

References

  1. Amaral, O., Garrison, L. & Klentschy. M. (2002). Helping English learners increase achievement through inquiry-based science instruction. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(2), 213-239.
  2. Chu, S., Tse, S., Loh, K. & Chow, K. (2011). Collaborative inquiry project-based learning: Effects on reading ability and interests. Library & Information Science Research, 33(3), 236-243.
  3. Dobbler, M., Tanis, M., Zward, R.C., & Oers, B. (2017). Literature review: The role of the teacher in inquiry-based education. Educational Research Review, 22, 194-214.
  4. Ismael, N. & Elias, S. (2006). Inquiry-based learning: A new approach to classroom learning. English Language Journal, 2(1), 13-22.
  5. Marshall, J. & Horton, R. (2011). The Relationship of teacher-facilitated, inquiry-based instruction to student higher-order thinking. School Science and Mathematics, 93-101.
  6. Pedaste, M., Maeots, M., Silman, L. & de Jong, T. (2015). Phrases of inquiry-based learning: Definitions and the inquiry cycle. Educational Research Review, 14, 47-61.

 


 

Colin Ward received his M.A. in TESOL from the University of London as a UK Fulbright Scholar. He is Department Chair and Professor of ESOL at Lone Star College-North Harris in Houston, Texas, USA. He has been teaching ESOL at the community-college level since 2002 and presented at numerous state, national, and international conferences. Colin has authored and co-authored a number of textbooks for Oxford University Press, including Q: Skills for Success Reading and Writing 3.

 


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Why Governments Should Incorporate Global Skills in Education

Children and teacher looking at world mapA changing world

To varying degrees, we’re all experiencing the advances of a more globalized and open world. We view images on social media that transport us to places we didn’t know existed, our children are adroit at video chatting with their grandparents, and we increasingly work with colleagues of different backgrounds across the globe. This paints a picture of great opportunities, where choice and open-mindedness bring together the best of our globalized technological societies. At the same time, it highlights challenges and responsibilities. For example the need for a deeper understanding of empathy and inclusivity, sustainability, and striving to remain relevant.

“Our task is to educate [students’] whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will, and our job is to help them make something of it.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Governments across the world are evaluating this changing landscape, recognizing that education needs to cover more than traditional subject knowledge whilst trying to pinpoint the skills and attitudes that will secure employability potential for the next generation. Alongside redefining the future labour market, the realities at the start of this new decade draw attention to less economically-driven societal values. Emotional resilience and wellbeing are swiftly climbing up social and political agendas, recognized as defining factors of happiness and personal success.

 

How can we truly prepare for the future?

Global skills

At Oxford University Press, we recently concluded work on identifying the global skills needed to thrive in the 21st-century world. We focused on the language classroom as it’s a natural conduit for developing global attitudes and skills through the lens of a different language, new culture, and communicative teaching methodologies. The global skills were grouped into five interconnected clusters and mapped onto the language classroom context. We acknowledged that this environment creates opportunities for authentic collaboration and reasons for meaningful communication, inspires creativity alongside multi-faceted critical thinking. The language classroom encourages positive learner identity and invites active participation in a wider world, reflected in the emotional self-regulation and wellbeing cluster, and the intercultural competence and citizenship cluster of skills. Digital and data literacies completed the list as a key enabler that encompasses and facilitates the other clusters.

 

Can any of this really be taught and learned?

The resounding answer is yes! Learning global skills is a realistic proposition for all learners. What’s more, evidence suggests that these skills are transferable across and beyond the curriculum, and support a positive attitude to lifelong learning.

What governments can do to support their development is to pro-actively mobilize global skills in educational policies that reflect local contexts. This can be achieved through curriculum development, teacher and institutional buy-in, and a sustainable implementation model that includes less orthodox assessment solutions.  After all, what government wouldn’t like to see engaged thinkers, confident and resourceful individuals who embrace an ethos of lifelong learning? What government wouldn’t like the next generation to grow into competent, fulfilled, healthy, empathetic and active participants in their communities? This is what the teaching of global skills can offer our learners – not tomorrow, but today.

 

For expert advice on how you can bring global skills into your classroom today, including an exclusive Teachers’ Toolkit, download our position paper today!

Download the position paper


Yordanka Kavalova is the publisher for Professional Development at OUP ELT. She’s worked in education publishing for over 13 years and has led a number of international projects for schools and higher-education. Yordanka also heads up the Expert Panel initiative at OUP ELT and is the chair of the ELT Journal. Previous to that, she was a corpus linguistics researcher at University College London and holds an MPhil in Modern English.


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How to increase access to high-quality ELT assessment

students taking an assessmentThis blog starts with two key statements that are facts:

  1. English is the world’s Lingua Franca. It’s spoken by 25% of the world’s population and there are now substantially more non-native than native speakers. (British Council, English Effect Report, accessed 02/01/2020)
  2. People who speak English have better chances in their life.
    “We have found a consistently positive correlation between English proficiency and a range of indicators of human and economic development, including adjusted net income per capita.” (EF English Proficiency Index 2019, accessed 02/01/2020)

 

Given these facts, how can we try to make sure that as many people as possible have access to high-quality English language assessment?

Increasing access to education is fundamental to creating a better, more balanced future. It is something that’s of huge personal importance to me, and that drives my decision making in my role as Director of Assessment at OUP. And yet English language learning and assessment has traditionally been aimed at those who can afford it—even though there are many more people who can’t afford it than those who can.

Assessment is a hugely important component of education because it provides evidence of learning. In the world of English language, assessment can open doors to education, work and immigration, but the keys to those doors are costly, with high-quality and recognized English language certification costing around £200. Looking at salaries in 77 countries (World Data, accessed 02/01/2020), it’s easy to see how much £200 is:

  • For 12 countries, the average monthly salary is around £200
  • A further 24 countries have an average monthly salary of less than £1000

It’s a fair conclusion that, due to high costs, English language assessment is closed off to many people worldwide. That’s why affordability in assessment is massively important if we’re not to leave swathes of people behind.

OUP is a mission-based organisation: we create world-class academic and educational resources and make them available as widely as possible. In my view, increasing access to high-quality English language assessment has the potential to transform education—and indeed people’s lives—for the better. My focus is on producing high-quality, internationally recognized English assessments that are affordable and accessible to more people. In my team, we do this in the design of our assessments and our flexible business models.

 

Join our Twitter Q&A!

At this year’s Education World Forum, the theme is “One generation – what does it take to transform education?”. To mark our involvement, I will be joined by English Language Teaching’s Marketing Director, Sarah Ultsch, for a Twitter Question & Answer session next week!

 

Would you like to ask us a question about OUP’s vision on “what it takes to transform education”? 

We will be answering your questions on Wednesday 22nd January at 1300 – 1400 GMT!

Join us on Twitter live, or post your question ahead of time using the hashtag #AskSarahEWF

 


 

Sarah Rogerson is Director of Assessment at Oxford University Press. She has worked in English language teaching and assessment for 20 years and is passionate about education for all and digital innovation in ELT. As a relative newcomer to OUP, Sarah is really excited about the Oxford Test of English and how well it caters to the 21st-century student.


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Find your learner’s reading level | Andrew Dilger

Find your reading level

I have a question for you. Do you know your learners’ reading level in English – I mean, really know it? If your learners are halfway through an A2 coursebook, does that mean their reading level is A2-and-a-half?! The cautious ones among us would say ‘Not necessarily’; the bold ones would say ‘No’. But in an age when efficacy and assessment is all the rage in ELT, plenty of pressure is put on the teaching community (by itself, parents, and other stakeholders) to measure learners’ language skills accurately – down to the nth degree, in fact.

 The dark art of testing

Measuring reading level has always been something of a dark art, or at least a shadowy discipline. Part of the problem is that, as a receptive skill, it seems to take place inside learners’ heads. We can test comprehension, of course. And how we love to test it – with questions, gapfills, clozes, and multiple-choices, all of which require learners to skim and scan until they go cross-eyed! We often enjoy testing comprehension so much that we squeeze the life out of a text. It’s a wonder we don’t put learners off reading in English altogether.

There are other factors at play, of course – short attention spans in a fast-paced, device-driven world compromising the appeal of ‘deep reading’ is one of them, but that’s an easy target. The main issue is that most learners aren’t reading the right texts for them, and not in the right way.

Reading improves all-round ability

If learners want to improve their reading level – and benefit their all-round ability in English – then it’s vital we help them discover how to do this. And don’t just take my word for it. Research by luminaries like Richard Day and Paul Nation has suggested this for years. There are massive gains to be made by learners reading a lot in English – reading extensively for interest and pleasure. For more on this, see this article from El País (use Google Translate if your Spanish is rusty or non-existent).

Reading fluency over reading comprehension

So let’s go back to the question: Do you know your learners’ reading level? The important thing to appreciate is that I’m talking about reading fluency here. Can they read a text connectedly and understand the majority of words?

Most publishers have an online test which claims to tell learners their reading level. Take the Macmillan Readers Level Test, for example. In actual fact, it’s a series of grammar and vocabulary sentences with multiple-choice options, i.e. it doesn’t test reading fluency at all. It features prompt pictures for all the items but most are decorative rather than functional. In addition, some of the sentences are unnatural or misleading, e.g. I’ve got an ache in my throat; Did you hear the thunder last night? with the prompt picture showing lightning. The maximum level the test can give is Upper Intermediate and, if you retake it, the questions and options are all in exactly the same order… so you can improve instantly by virtue of having done the test already.

A tool instead of a test

Here at OUP we’ve come up with something different and something new. And we’d like you and your learners to decide how useful it is. For a start, we’re not calling it a test – it’s a tool. A semantic difference perhaps, but an important one. This isn’t a grammar check based on a random text, but something which genuinely attempts to gauge how fluent learners are at reading a page of a published story.

How does it do this? With a disarmingly simple innovation. Learners themselves decide whether they know the meanings of the words or not. They also decide whether a page of a story at a certain level is ‘Too easy’, ‘Too difficult’, or ‘OK’. This is known as the Goldilocks Principle and is common in cognitive science and developmental psychology.

‘But students will cheat!’ I hear you cry. If they do, they’re only cheating themselves because they’ll be shown a range of stories at the wrong level. It’s like buying clothes – why would you choose trousers which are two sizes too big if they fall down round your ankles? Instead, what learners need is something that ‘fits’ – something that’s right for them at that stage in their development. This means being able to read confidently at a comfortable level.

What’s the point?

After all, the point of learners finding their reading level isn’t so they can brandish it on a certificate or boast about it on social media. The point is to open up a world of texts, stories, and information which they will find digestible and rewarding – even life-changing.

If YOUR learners want to find their reading level in English, they can try our new tool here. Why don’t YOU try it, too? It’s free and takes less than 10 minutes. Because it’s a beta version, we’re also interested in getting feedback about ways to improve it, so please ask your learners to complete the survey too. Happy reading!                      

Find your reading level button

 


Andrew Dilger is a Managing Editor at Oxford University Press. He has been involved in English language teaching as a teacher, trainer, and editor for over a quarter of a century. He is passionate about the power of reading and claims to have read something every day of his life since he first went to school.


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Developing Global Skills in the ELT classroom | ELTOC 2020

ELTOC 2020In the simplest sense, global skills can be thought of as the skills which are essential to being a life-long learner and to be successful in the rapidly changing and unpredictable world of the 21st century. As teachers, we need to equip students for situations and jobs which do not currently exist and which we cannot confidently predict.

Global skills are not restricted to any particular subject on the curriculum but are transferable across all subjects and to life beyond school.

Global skills can be grouped into five clusters, all of which are relevant to the ELT context.

  • communication and collaboration
  • creativity and critical thinking
  • intercultural competence and citizenship
  • emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
  • digital literacies.

While most teachers would be convinced that it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop global skills in their institutions, it is not always easy to see how this can be done when time is already limited. If we are to take on this challenge, we need ways to incorporate global skills into the classroom without creating an extra workload for ourselves, or by eating into precious class time.

Below are three such suggestions of how we might develop global skills.

  1. Think-pair-share

In a traditional classroom, the teacher will get students to work individually (think) on an activity and then check (share) the answers with the whole class. In the think-pair-share model, the same process is followed but before the final checking stage, the teacher asks students to compare their answers in pairs (pair). This stage might only take 15 to 30 seconds in total but the benefits are huge because it leads to communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and students increased confidence and motivation.

  1. Comparing to one’s own culture

Many ELT coursebooks have cultural content or specific cultural sections. The teacher can engage students in this by asking them to say the similarities and differences to the students’ own context from what is stated in the coursebook. This is feasible even if students have a low language level. For example, if the lesson is about what a person from a particular country has for breakfast, the teacher could list the items of food on the board and then ask students to say which ones are similar or different to what they would have for breakfast. The teacher could supply the English equivalents for the local food items. This could then be followed up by students using both lists to create their ideal breakfast.

  1. The option of writing or video recording

When asking for a piece of work that might typically be in written form, such as a book report, summary, the final product of a project, etc., teachers can give the option of doing it as a video recording. This pushes students to work on most of the five clusters mentioned above. It also has the added advantage of allowing the dyslexic students to flourish without having to worry about people criticizing their spelling and handwriting or having to deliberately choose simple vocabulary because having to find the spelling of the words they would like to use is too time-consuming. Many students will actually work more on producing a video than a piece of written work, especially if they know this will be shared and evaluated by fellow students.


ELTOC 2020 

Join me in ELTOC 2020 for more examples of how we can develop global skills in the ELT classroom without the need for extra resources or time-consuming activities. The waitlist is now open!


Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995 and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.