Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.

 


3 Comments

An Introduction to Resilience in English Language Teaching

Girl shaking hands at workResilience, the ability to bounce back from stress, is an important attribute for anyone facing a difficult situation. In English Language Teaching there is a focus on encouraging students to build their individual resilience to aide their learning and improve their mental health. There has also been an increasing focus on building resilience in communities that have fled conflict, and how language classrooms can be a safe space for learners to work through the effects of trauma.

 

How does learning English support the resilience of an individual?

In ELT there has been a particular focus on building individual resilience, as education places more importance on learners’ mental health. Resilience of students, particularly from communities of migrants and refugees, can be built by combining personal development with the development of skills for employment. While acquiring age-appropriate levels of literacy and mastering a new language, it is essential to ensure that spoken and written forms of the mother tongue are also affirmed. This bilingual resilience-building model results in better academic performance, literacy rates and language learning, all of which enhance children’s likely success in education and future employment. Thus, success is related to developing the mother tongue as well as additional languages such as English.

 

How does a bilingual resilience-building model support communities that have fled conflict?

Opportunities to use home languages when learning English create inclusive learning environments less likely to marginalise children based on social, ethnic, or gender. In addition to benefiting academic performance and language development, these language programmes also foster inter-generational ethnic connections, increase family cohesion, and support cultural identities. This is achieved by helping English language learners bring home languages and cultures into the classroom.

 

Where can I learn more?

Below is an infographic from ELT Journals, outlining the role the ELT classroom plays in building personal and academic resilience. You can find the full article, including references, below:

 

Read the article

 

Resilience in English Language Teaching


1 Comment

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 upcoming webinar, we will be looking at many more and also investigating some of the apps they can use outside the classroom too. We’re running multiple sessions from the 22nd to the 23rd October 2019. I hope to see you there!

Register for the webinar


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


4 Comments

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.