Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


Leave a comment

Graded Readers and 21st Century Skills

Graded readers then and now

Using graded readers to help learners to improve their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills is not a recently discovered English teaching technique. In the 1920s, for instance, Dr Michael West edited a series called New Method Supplementary Graded Readers (Longman) with exactly this aim, and these were not the first simplified story books for foreign learners of English. Nowadays, most ELT publishers produce a wide range of readers designed to appeal to different age groups. Oxford University Press, for example, publishes both Bookworms and Dominoes for teenage readers.                                                                                            

21st century skills

The idea of teaching 21st century skills is relatively new. What do we mean by 21st century skills? Although there are different definitions, most people agree the following four skills areas (the four ‘C’s) are at the heart of 21st century learning:

  • Collaboration (with students working effectively in teams, groups, or pairs)
  • Critical thinking (with students questioning content, and solving problems, rather than just accepting and learning facts by heart)
  • Creativity (with students using their imagination to produce something new)
  • Communication (with students transmitting and receiving spoken, written and mixed-media messages effectively)

The following three ‘C’s are also sometimes included under the 21st century skills umbrella:

  • Computer literacy (with students undertaking online research, word-processing, the production of digital presentations, video clips, audio recordings, etc.)
  • Cultural and global awareness (with students learning about other cultures and the world)
  • Civics, citizenship and ethics (with students learning about society and social values)

Incorporating a focus on 21st century skills like these into classes based around graded readers can combine new and familiar lesson elements in fresh ways which are really engaging for students – especially teenagers!

Giving support

When designing extensive reading lessons for learners of English from other language backgrounds, we should naturally provide support. This support should enable students to complete the reading-related tasks that we set them. It can take many different forms – for instance, with a fictional text:

  • activating the language learners may need to understand the story
  • raising learner awareness of the time and place of the story, especially if these are unfamiliar
  • encouraging cognitive skills like prediction and empathy to help learners enter more fully into the story

Of course, choosing a story text which is simple enough for learners to read at speed without a dictionary can help to make the task of reading more achievable. This is where the carefully graded levels of a series like Bookworms or Dominoes can greatly help the teacher. Clear levelling helps teachers to select suitable reading materials for different classes (in a ‘class reader’ approach – where all students in a class are reading the same story). Clear levelling can also help teachers to suggest appropriate books for individual students to read (in a ‘readers library’ approach, where different students in a class are reading different stories according to level and taste).

Three different stages

The three classic stages (and stage aims) of a reading lesson – using a story text as a class reader – are as follows:

  • Before reading (aims: to arouse curiosity and prepare learners to make sense of the story)
  • While reading (aims: to help learners understand the story so far and make them curious about what comes next in the story)
  • After reading (aims: to encourage learners to respond to the story through thinking, speaking, writing, or creating something inspired by the story)

Each of these stages will naturally focus on different 21st century skills. ‘Before reading’ tasks will often involve thinking skills (hypothesizing, predicting, questioning). ‘While reading’ tasks will often involve communication and collaboration skills (discussing the story so far, or the story yet to come, in pairs, groups, or as a class). ‘After reading’ tasks will often involve creative self-expression and maybe also computer skills (for online research, making and delivering PowerPoint presentations, word processing and designing texts for poster display, etc.)

Webinar

Join me in my webinar ‘Graded Readers and 21st century skills’ to learn more – with examples from Bookworms and Dominoes – about practical ways of refreshing and varying your reading classes. Blending modern skill sets with classic graded reader techniques makes for rich teaching territory that we will explore together.


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP).  Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.


Further Reading:

Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (Revised Edition) – Day, R., Bassett, J. (et al) – Oxford University Press (2016)


8 Comments

Do you speak emoji?

Teach english with emojiLove them or hate them, emojis are now a part of everyday life, in 2017 there was even a movie about them. Unlike that movie, which failed to wow the critics 😴, I think embracing emojis in the classroom could get you a 👍 from students.

Only two years ago Oxford Dictionaries (1) chose 😂 as its word of the year. Since then the number of emojis has grown to over two and half thousand (once you factor in skin tones and gender). There is everything from passport control 🛂 through to a pretzel emoji 🥨, which was one of the 60 or so added in the last update (2).

The popularity of emojis has naturally led to headlines from the media such as ‘emoji will cause the death of English’, ‘Are emojis killing language?’ and the rather wonderful ‘emojis are ruining civilisation’. Such headlines by the way are a journalist’s version of a substitution table; a quick
search will reveal that they said the same about text messages, and social media.

As one journalist put it: “A picture speaks a thousand words, yes. But an emoji cannot express the myriad of meanings that language allows for” (3).   As a teacher then, we can choose to go one of two ways; for or against the headlines. I suggest we can take a more positive approach, similar to the one taken recently by this professor of communication: ‘’Emojis enhance human interactions. It’s trying to put emotional, non-verbal information back in” (4). In other words, emojis are now an important part of communication. As a language teacher, it is this aspect that first got me hooked on emojis and how they can be used as part of our language lessons.  I use them now for everything from vocabulary practice to judging how well a student has understood key parts of my lesson.

What’s your favourite emoji? Do you have one? Why that one? At the moment I quite like 🤯. It’s one of the new ones used to mean anything from shock to awe.

This simple question is a speaking activity in itself. ‘OK class take out your phones, tell your partner what your favourite emoji is and why.’

At the very least, emojis provide us with thousands of symbols that we can use in teaching.  Think how often we use flashcards or pictures, emojis at a very basic level can act in the same way. See the funny thing about emoji is that they have a universal meaning.  They cross linguistic borders like no other form of communication. That is not to say that some don’t alter meaning in different cultural and group contexts, but on one level the meaning of many is the same. Show a picture of an emoji to your students and there is a good chance that they will know what it is, a very useful scaffold on which we can exercise vocabulary. And when they don’t know what it is, we immediately enter a speaking and thinking exercise as students try to work it out.

Now some of you might be thinking ‘yeah but I don’t know what half of them mean myself’ 😤. Keep calm! There are many tools at our disposal – from an emoji dictionary, through to an emoji encyclopedia.  You can even get real time usage stats of the world wide use of emoji (NB: I might have become a bit emoji obsessed).

Join me for my webinar in January, and I’ll show you how you can make use of emoji as a teaching resource to enhance all aspects of language teaching.  Hopefully by the end of yet when I ask ‘Do you speak emoji?’ you’ll be able to respond with a 👍! Click here to register.


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


References:

  1. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2015
  2. https://blog.emojipedia.org/final-2017-emoji-list/
  3. https://theboar.org/2017/02/emojis-killing-language/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/25/emojis-enhance-human-interactions-royal-institution-christmas-lecturer-sophie-scott


4 Comments

Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush | Q&A

Development meeting
It was great to see so many of you in the webinars. Once again, I think its evidence that so many teachers are incredibly committed to what they do, and want to learn more about themselves and how they can help their students learn.

The webinar was a whistle stop tour of short, simple and shareable development activities, from which rose some interesting questions. I hope I can answer them here in a helpful way.

 

A number of you wanted to know more about professional development in a context where you work alone – perhaps as an online teacher.

“It would be useful to have some hints and tips for individual teachers who perhaps work on freelance basis and don’t have interaction with colleagues.”

“Can you possibly share with us your view on individual teachers’ development, please? I’m mostly working from home, so I’m the only worker in my little, yet cosy company. I also learn best on my own, the same goes for my professional reflections. Is it always about interacting with colleagues?”

 Although it’s true that working alongside teaching colleagues offers a deep reservoir of easily accessible professional ideas and support, it’s perfectly possible to engage in developmental activities on our own. We looked at a number of activities which provide a framework of descriptive experiences, followed by exploratory questions designed to support reflection. These can all provide the basis for an individual to examine their own practice too. Whether in dialogue with another or on our own, a key step is the actual articulation of our thoughts. In a conversation, we do this through speaking. If we are on our own then writing down our recollections, questions and ideas become the most normal way of recording. This articulation stage is important as it forces us to codify, categorise, and order our sometimes muddled thoughts. It makes inconsistencies more visible. Patterns become more identifiable. This is especially the case if we write down our responses to the reflection questions on a regular basis over a set period. Then, by returning to them and reading them together, this can often reveal things about our understandings that we simply don’t see in the normal daily rush.

Writing in this way – to ourselves – can feel odd at first. I’ve found the best way to do this is to use a computer, just type without looking at the screen or bothering about syntax, punctuation or spelling. Just a stream of consciousness. Then I come back the next day and read it through. It’s often quite surprising what I discover. By the way, one possible side effect of this is stress relief. If I’m worried about a lesson I’ve done, or an issue at work, then writing about it in this way can sometimes clear it from my mind. I can ‘get it off my chest’.

A useful writer on this topic is Jenny Moon. Her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning’ is straightforward, accessible, and packed full of ideas and activities to help.

As for the classroom-based activities, why not observe yourself? If you work online, simply record the lesson (with the permission of your student) using screen capture software and then watch again using the observation activities we explored in the webinar. This is powerful. I can personally testify to the usefulness of this, as I will be watching the recording of this webinar to identify all the times I go ‘off script’ in an attempt to get better control of my timings.

Finally, there is the point that it’s actually hard to be alone these days. There are many professional online communities – especially in education. I belong to the Oxford Teachers’ Club which is open to everyone who has attended an Oxford Teachers’ Academy course. There are over 250 members who chat away on the Facebook site. Other universal sites, such as LinkedIn have discussion groups with very active participants. IATEFL has a variety of special interest groups who tweet and chat online – perhaps the Teacher Development SIG might be of interest (https://tdsig.org).

What if you have colleagues who observe just to criticize?

This is unfortunately something I have encountered a great deal. Perhaps the first question is why does this happen? Perhaps they’re simply repeating their experiences of being observed. Perhaps they feel that they are being helpful, and helping us to learn from our mistakes. In my experience this is the most common approach that observers take. The ‘I will point out what you can do better’ method. It has its place, of course, but if this is the only use of an observation it can become very negative.

One way of engaging with this is to use focused observations, rather than a general one. Have specific questions, and therefore data that you ask your colleague to record, and then in the post-observation discussion have some questions ready to guide the conversation. This changes the role of the observer to recorder – and away from judge.

I know one teacher who asked if she could record the post-observation conversations, and then analysed the amount of critical comments and shared her findings with the colleagues. This was highly effective in showing them the impact of their approaches.

Observation and the subsequent discussion is a competence that needs to be learned. I can be a great classroom teacher, but not have very developed observation skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to criticise. It might be that that I don’t know any other way. This brings me on to the last question.

Are there any useful books that you would recommend for conducting observations?

Yes. ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ by Ruth Wajnryb is an excellent resource. It looks at seven different aspects of the classroom experience and has five focused observation activities for each, along with exploratory frameworks for reflection afterwards. If you do a different one each week, you’ll have a full academic year of observation tasks without repeating yourself. Then do it again the following year and see what’s changed.

Why not buy a copy for your critical colleague as a birthday present?

Looking forward to seeing you all again on a webinar soon!


Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP.


1 Comment

Everyday development activities for busy teachers | Learning in the rush

Development activities

Martyn Clarke has led education development projects all over the world, and has written numerous blogs for OUP! In this article, he examines the everyday development opportunities that teachers could be missing out on. 

When I work with groups of teachers, we often build a concept map of what has influenced us in our development as teachers. What do you think are the most influential factors? Our pre-service courses? INSET? Methodology books? OUP webinars?

 

Well, it’s none of those. Whether in Djibouti, the Ukraine, Vietnam, or anywhere in between, the two most influential factors are consistently:

  1. Our own experience of teaching;
  2. Our colleagues.

Surprised? Probably not. In fact, given the amount of time we spend in the classroom and with our colleagues in comparison to how much time we spend on training courses and reading methodology books, it’s quite obvious that this should be the case.

If this is true, we should be learning all the time. We teach all day. We talk to colleagues in-between lessons. We have all we need to develop just by doing the job, don’t we?

I’m not sure we do. You see, experience just isn’t enough.

This is because we only tend to notice certain experiences. Simply, we don’t see things as ‘they are’; we see things as ‘we are’ (Anais Nin). We have a tendency to interpret information so that it fits into our existing frameworks of understanding. So, if I think my students are generally unmotivated, I will tend to notice behaviour which I believe proves this. I might miss things that show otherwise.

I see what I expect to see. I experience what I expect to experience. And then I get tremendous satisfaction when I can say ‘I told you so’ or ‘I knew’ that would happen’.

It’s a little like living in a box. Clearly you can’t go far if you stay in a box! But to be successful, I’m in no way suggesting that you must leave the box.

Boxes are comfortable places to be. They’re safe. You can focus on what you’re happy with; you can enjoy yourself and increase your confidence. It’s great to be able to do what you do, do it well, and then celebrate that certainty. I know I’ve had many happy ‘box periods’ in my career where I focused on the enjoyment of honing my existing skills. And when our professional lives are busy, and we teach and work in a constant rush, it’s sometimes good to have that security.

Yet we can’t escape the fact that we’re teachers. We believe in learning. And if we believe in learning, we believe in change. So, there are times when we should use development activities to open the box and look at the world around us with different eyes. Even in the rush.

I’ll be showing you how to do this in my upcoming webinar on the 15th-16th November. Some of the practical learning activities for teachers can done alone, some can be done with colleagues. And none take more than 30 minutes.

Here’s one development activity you can do on your own:


Why it Worked

Reflection often starts with problems or areas of difficulty, but this activity focuses on the learning’s we can gain from our successes, and possible applications to other areas of our practice.

Suggested Activity Procedure

  1. Set aside 30 minutes.
  2. Use the Recalling Prompts to guide your exploration.
  3. Use the Reflective Questions to guide your analysis of the data and record your conclusions and future actions.

Recalling Prompts

Identify something you are involved in that was successful this week.

  • Where did this happen and who was involved?
  • How do you know you were successful?
  • Have you tried the activity before with different results?
  • What effect did the success have on the people involved?

Reflection Questions

  • How do you measure the success?
  • Does everybody involved share your evaluation? If not, why?
  • How replicable is this success – can you repeat the activity with the same results?
  • If you’ve tried this before with different results, how do you account for the change?
  • What aspects of the activity (in planning or in delivery) could you use with other activities?

Action

  • Write down one action you will take as a result of this reflection.

Here’s one development activity you can do with colleagues:


Me time

Find two other colleagues.

One of you has ‘Me Time’ on a specific afternoon for 30 minutes after school each week.

What this means is that the other two colleagues focus completely on you. You may have a problem with a student, or with a language point, or with a task you have to do, or with how you are feeling, or with ANYTHING you want to talk about – as long as it’s something to do with your job.

Because you are the focus, they have to spend at least 15 minutes just listening to you and can only ask questions.

After the first 15 minutes, they can describe possible alternative actions that you could take, but they can’t say what they think is right or wrong.

You control the conversation completely, and if you want to talk you just raise your hand and the other speaker stops.

Then – wherever you are in the conversation you ALWAYS stop at 30 minutes – and the next week it’s someone else’s turn for Me Time.


The ideas are simple, but good ideas often are! In the webinar, we’ll be exploring 12 more teacher-focused learning activities that you can use for your own professional development.  

Click here to register your place on the webinar.

Hope to see you there!

 


2 Comments

25 steps to publishing a textbook

Ever wondered where those books you’re using come from? The journey those published works take from being an idea, to the finished article is a long one, sometimes taking four years or more! They start that journey in the hands of the authors, then they pass through the hands of designers, publishers, and printers, before finally landing in yours.

This infographic gives you a unique insight into the process our books undergo before they reach you.