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Say it app: Using digital resources in the classroom

Say it! app

Digital resources are abundant these days, and their use in the classroom, and by students in their own time, is an increasing trend. But it can be difficult to know what to use, and how to use it. These apps and websites don’t tend to come with a well-researched Teachers’ Book to help you plan your lesson!

As a starting point, it can be helpful to ask your students which English learning apps and websites they use themselves. Asking them to write a review, a report, or even give a short presentation about their favourite digital resources can be a great classroom activity (particularly if they are preparing for an exam such as Cambridge Advanced). It will give you valuable insight into what they’re using so that you can select digital elements to incorporate into lessons and homework.

Once you’ve got a shortlist of digital resources you like, you can focus more on understanding how they work and how they can support your students’ learning. I’ve been really impressed with some of the feeds on Instagram, for example (although there is a lot that I find less helpful too!) English Test Channel (@english_tests on Instagram, or  youtube.com/englishtestchannel) posts pictures and videos covering different aspects of English grammar and spelling – it’s great as ‘bite-sized’ learning for students, or to give them something extra to practice at home. I also regularly point my students in the direction of flo-joe.co.uk for extra Cambridge exam tips and practice.

When we were designing the Say It: English Pronunciation app (IOS, Android), we wanted to marry a great digital learning experience with fantastic content. I use the app with my students to help them with pronunciation, but it also improves their listening comprehension and their spelling.

The broad range of vocabulary in the app – the full word list has over 35,000 entries – is incredibly helpful. Whilst teaching a Spanish nurse the other day, we looked up medical terms, such as ‘alimentary canal’, and also everyday words she uses with patients, like ‘comfortable’. She has a C1 level of English but told me she sometimes avoids using certain vocabulary when speaking because she lacks confidence in pronunciation.

We’ve also recently introduced English File content into Say It, and are delighted to be partnered with a coursebook which has such a strong focus on pronunciation. Say It contains around 250 English File words and the iconic English File Sound Bank – both use the classroom audio which English File students are familiar with.

So what are your favourite digital resources for learning and teaching English? Have you found any fantastic, engaging, learning-focused tools which work well for you and your students? Let us know in the comments below!


Classroom activities

Review of a digital learning resource.

Either in small groups or individually, students write a review/report/presentation of their favourite digital English learning resource.

1. Describe what it is

2. Talk about what you can do with it, and why it’s useful

3. What are the app/site’s USPs?

4. Are there any improvements you would make, or new features you’d like to see?

5. Why would you recommend it to friends?

*Classroom activity two – English learning app mini hack!*

In groups, ask the students to develop a concept for a new English learning app. They can:

1. Come up with a name for their product

2. Design an icon

3. Explain in words/drawings what the app does (eg does it help students with writing, spelling, grammar…?)

4. Draw out at least one ‘wireframe’ screen for the app, showing how users will interact with it and learn from it

5. Write a promotional text (around 30 words)

6. Think about pricing – how much would it cost, what model would they use (paid app, subscription, in-app purchase, advertising)


Jenny Dance runs a language school in Bristol, and published the award-winning Say It: English Pronunciation app with OUP. In this post, she talks about an approach to exploring digital resources which students and teachers can use to support learning, both in the classroom and at home.


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Well-being – How teachers can support themselves with meditation

Relax!

Meditation is a strange spiritual practise, sitting in funny yoga postures and humming or chanting mantras, right? How on earth can that be of any help to teachers? This was not an uncommon response I used to get when teachers were first introduced to the idea of meditation.

Thankfully nowadays, perceptions of meditation have changed, schools and teachers are embracing it as a highly successful way for improving wellbeing. Meditation can help in relation to a word we sadly hear too often when talking about teaching; stress.

Demands, targets, new initiatives, and behaviour issues all generate stress for teachers. The Educational Support Partnership charity (UK) has recently claimed that over two-thirds of teachers say their job has adversely affected their mental health.

The effects of stress

While short periods of stress are inevitable for most of us, it is prolonged and constant stress that can have detrimental effects on our physical and mental health. Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response. When our bodies are exposed to danger or a threat (physical or perceived) our bodies create an adrenaline rush to get us out of danger. The hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal glands resulting in increased blood pressure, faster pulse, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to the muscles. All of which are needed to help us escape from danger. However, our bodies aren’t very good at distinguishing between actual danger and the (mostly un-hazardous) challenges we face in our daily lives, so the same response is triggered.

If we experience this fight or flight response over a long period of time, it can take its toll on our physical and mental health. Long term stress can cause cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Counteracting the effects of stress

So, before we all get totally depressed thinking about stress, let’s look at how we can counteract these affects.

It is vital to remember the old adage “You can’t pour from an empty jug”.  Teachers can’t give what they haven’t got. They need to take care of themselves first. As teachers, we often can’t change the pressures or demands on us, but we can change how we deal with them. Unsurprisingly, one of the most effective ways to combat the stress response is to elicit the relaxation response.

Easier said than done you may be thinking. We don’t all have the time to relax, as relaxation activities are sometimes time-consuming and expensive. You’ll be pleased to learn then that the relaxation response can be elicited in a variety of ways, including through meditation techniques.

Adding meditation to your everyday activities can be a remarkably successful way of de-stressing, and through regular practice, can reduce the emotional and physical consequences of stress.

What is meditation?

Meditation comes in many forms and there are numerous techniques to choose from. To clarify, meditation is simply having a relaxed awareness of the present moment. Everyone has experienced this but maybe has not recognised it as meditation. It is those times when you are fully involved in an activity and yet relaxed and aware of what is happening around you. People experience it through sport, or movement sometimes called “being in the zone”, others experience it while painting or being creative, while cooking, singing, dancing, even cleaning. It can also happen when we are more passive, sitting by a river watching the water flow past, watching the moving clouds, or on the beach watching the sea coming in.

Like any good language learner knows, practice makes perfect. As teachers we explain to students that learning English does not happen overnight, they have to keep on using the new language and practising it. The same is true for meditation. It is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. A single silent sitting mediation before a class isn’t going to be a cure all for all the demands placed on you. However regular meditation can act as a strong foundation on which teachers can build healthier social-emotion skills.

In this webinar we will look at simple, easy techniques that you can add into your everyday teaching activities. Simply by stopping and giving yourself a few minutes or changing how you perform activities can achieve a relaxed state. Meditation techniques can take just a few minutes and these small changes can have a big impact on your life. 

Join us to explore which techniques will work for you and start supporting yourself through meditation.


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ELTOC

Ushapa Fortescue
is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Be the first to know when registration for this fantastic professional development opportunity opens by clicking here.


Ushapa Fortescue Ushapa has worked as a teacher trainer around the world. Soon after becoming a teacher, Ushapa was introduced to meditation and for the last 14 years, alongside the teacher training Ushapa has spent time visiting, living and working in meditation centres around the world. Ushapa loves engaging and encouraging teachers so they can pass on a love of language learning to their students.


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Artificial Intelligence | ELT EdTech

AI in the classroom.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has actually been around for decades. But only recently has it become an accessible tool for day-to-day tasks on our smartphones, picking strawberries, predicting crimes, and even English Language Teaching!

What is Artificial Intelligence?

A good working definition, which applies to the general understanding of AI, is Artificial Intelligence involves machines or computers that work and react like humans do.

The AI that is prevalent in current technology is what we’d call Narrow AI. That is to say it has a narrow focus and is very good at one or two jobs. For example, Shazam is very good at letting you know what song is playing, by listening to a snippet of the music, but it can’t tell you how many tickets are left for the theatre tomorrow night, or how tall Charles de Gaulle was.

An easy mistake to make is to imagine AI as machines that can think like humans do. This is called General AI, where a program could theoretically turn its hand to a variety of problems and, after a bit of observation, take up the task itself, as a person might be able to.

This kind of multifaceted intelligence isn’t replicable in computer programs (yet.) As Dr. Hadar Shemtov, Director of Research at Google, said in response to a question from the audience at an OUP dictionaries summit, “Computers are actually a lot dumber than the average guy thinks… they still need to be told what to do in the vast majority of cases.

How does it work?

There are two basic ways AI can work. The first is rules based – the program is given a set of rules and it keeps applying these to the problem to find an answer. The second is learning based – the program observes, finds patterns and matches patterns independently.

The difference between these two is that one is taught, whilst one is learned.

This is why AI is mentioned with such frequency in recent years. Previously, AI was all rules based – meaning its capabilities were restricted by the rules that could be defined by programmers. Modern AI has shifted to learning based, making it exponentially more powerful and opening up many more exciting implications. This has become possible because the vast data sets, and the computing power to analyse them (required to help a program learn) are now available with modern technology.

So what is Machine Learning?

Machine Learning is when AI programs learn how to complete a task. Machine Learning involves a computer analysing large quantities of data, recognising patterns in the data, and drawing out conclusions or solutions from these patterns. Often, in order for patterns to become apparent, huge quantities of data need to be looked at. The more data available, the more likely the AI is going to produce an accurate answer.

The initial algorithm for how to use the data is written by a human programmer, but the computer then applies this to vast data sets. This means that AI can notice patterns and provide answers far faster than any human – and sometimes provide answers humans would have been incapable of ever producing. But, it also means that the quality of the data needs to be good. If you input a poor data set into AI, you’re only going to get poor output. If you want to see Machine Learning in action, Teachable Machine is a great free tool developed by Google.

 What can we use AI for?

Well, just about anything. Uses of AI have already done great things to make our modern and connected lives more efficient and personalised. But there are also numerous potential benefits for education, which could improve the working lives of teachers and the learning journeys of students.

To date, Oxford University Press has already built products that make use of AI to personalise learning materials, we’ve partnered with Edwin to create an English tutor chatbot, and with Mobilinga to create interactive adventure stories, delivered via Alexa. We’re excited to continue exploring how we can make use of AI in education with our partners, using it to create new learning materials and content to help the world learn English.

Think you could partner with us? The Oxford University Press ELT Product and Innovation team are heading to the 2019 BETT conference in London later this month. Are you going? If you want to discuss potential partnerships with the team, please click the button below to get in touch and book a meeting.


Harry Cunningham is a Partnerships and Innovation Manager at Oxford University Press in the ELT division. He’s focused on enhancing and bringing OUP’s English Language Teaching content to life with the latest and best technological solutions.


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How to work with learners with SEBD (social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties) in the classroom | Annette Igel

Where’s the turn off button?

Over the past couple of years, I have been working intensively with learners with SEBD, and it is not always the child with the most boisterous and loud behaviour that causes problems in the classroom.

Three cases

Take Katrin*, for example, who is a very quiet girl and she does not cause any problems in class. That is if she attends class at all or takes part while she is in the classroom. Over the last year her behaviour has changed dramatically. From being able to attend lessons without any major issues towards missing whole weeks of school. Due to severe anxiety she does not participate or come to school without her mother and stays in the classroom (or at least in the spare room attached to the classroom). She rarely sits at her place but might choose to sit at an extra table with her mother.  Towards her mother, she often uses quite an aggressive tone, as soon as her mother is out of sight, she descends into a meltdown.

Then there is Tom* who is at least two years behind his classmates in his social and behavioural development. His behaviour often resembles that of a pre-school learner though he is in 4th grade. If he puts his mind to a task, he can focus and work quite well, and his knowledge of vocabulary is at the upper end of the class. Unfortunately, he cannot work well in pairs and groups over a period of time and often pulls himself out of activities and disturbs others, often together with Jim*.

Jim has been officially diagnosed with SEBD and needs to spend several weeks a year in the children’s psychiatric ward. He is a learner with a very short concentration span who only works one-on-one with a teacher as he needs strong emotional support. Then he shows the ability to at least work on tasks even if slower than most other learners. In situations where the learners role play, mingle activities, and other free tasks, he withdraws himself and starts playing around, disturbing others, often together with Tylor*. The other learners are very reluctant to have him in their groups.

These are just three children I have in my English classes at a primary school in Hamburg, Germany.  

They are all in the same class and of course there are other learners with similar issues in the other classes, as all schools in Hamburg are supposed to follow an inclusive approach.

But how can you as a teacher juggle all this, especially when you do not have an assistant teacher?

What is SEBD?

It is not easy to find an umbrella to cover the immense variation that occurs in SEBD as is obvious from the three cases described. Marie Delaney (2016) gives the following characteristics of problematic behaviour to differentiate it from misbehaviour.

‘We use SEBD to describe problematic behaviour which

  • is severe
  • isn’t age appropriate
  • happens frequently
  • occurs in different situations.’

Typical behaviour includes learners being disruptive, challenging (not only towards the teacher), hyperactive and restless, but also as the case of Katrin shows, withdrawn. This does not mean, however, that they are not able to cope in the classroom, as they have to learn strategies to cope with situations that might trigger their negative behaviour.

Recommended strategies

Strategies which can be used with all learners but are very useful when working with learners with SEBD:

  • Be positive, and do not take the child’s behaviour personally.
  • Praise positive behaviour to encourage them.
  • Have clear reminders you can use in class for each learner, such as a little note stuck on their desk.
  • Give them the opportunity to have some time out when it is getting too much.
  • Show a real interest in the learners.
  • Get all stakeholders on board, including other teachers, parents, classmates, the child of course, and an assistant or special education teacher if you have one.
  • Decide together with the child what strategies can be followed when they feel stressed, anxious and when something triggers their slip into their negative behaviour.
  • Be supportive but also show them when they cross the borders.

How to cope with all of this when you are alone in the classroom

First of all, you are not the only teacher facing learners with SEBD. Talk to colleagues, support each other and think of strategies that you could use, when certain situations arise, and not only the ones that affect you. This also helps the individual learner as they can sense the system and will feel more supported and safer in the classroom.  There may come the moment when one of your learners actually comes up to you and says: ‘With you, I feel much safer.’ as happened at the end of a school year during which I had been working intensively with one boy with SEBD who had slowly learned to better control his anger and aggression.

That is when you know you have reached at least one of your struggling learners and that your efforts are rewarded.

*All names have been changed.


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ELTOC

Anette is running a webinar on this topic for OUP’s free English Language Teaching Online Conference in March 2019. Be the first to know when registration for this fantastic professional development opportunity opens by clicking here.

See you there!


Anette Igel

Now based in Hamburg, Anette previously worked as a DoS, Teacher-Trainer, and a teacher specialising in English and German at International House Brno, in the Czech Republic between 2003 and 2016.  She is currently an English and Inclusion teacher at a Hamburg Primary school, and is also a tutor for IHC in the local area.


Bibliography:

Delaney, M. (2016) Special Educational Needs – into the classroom, Oxford: OUP


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There is no such thing as lazy! | Nick Thorner

It’s a word heard frequently in staff rooms whenever students are discussed. We don’t tend to use it when we’re writing their reports, but it’s often there on our lips as we compose them. The word in question is ‘lazy’, defined as being ‘unwilling to work or use energy’. It describes a feeling few of us are immune from. But perhaps it’s not a helpful way of understanding students, for three reasons.

Firstly, the word can weaken relationships between student and teacher. ‘Lazy’ is full of negative connotation and if we portray students in pejorative terms, we will resent having to teach them – no one likes helping the undeserving. Consequently, we ourselves begin to lose motivation. The problem doesn’t end there, of course. Even if we avoid calling our students ‘lazy’, they are very quick to pick on any negative attitudes we hold. There is nothing less likely to motivate a student than a demotivated teacher! So, thinking of our students as lazy creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Second, the idea of laziness is disempowering and erodes hope of achievement. It is often seen as a fixed character trait, a flaw some people are just born with. Alternatively, we may even consider it a choice: ‘Don’t be lazy!’ we’ll exhort our students. Therefore, a student deemed ‘lazy’ will be perceived (or perceive themselves) either as incapable or naughty. Is this fair? Undoubtedly, some of us are born with passive dispositions or may acquire cynical beliefs about the value of effort. But others who seem lazy in the classroom seem anything but on a sports field or in a shopping centre. ‘Laziness’ can certainly have environmental causes.

And that brings us to our final point: that the word ‘lazy’ may prevent us from doing our jobs to the best of our ability. If we suggest through our language that lack of effort has no external causes, won’t it stop us looking for solutions? Once again, the word ‘lazy’ may make us lazy. Or perhaps we may be guilty of labelling students ‘lazy’ to escape the feeling that we ourselves could do more to motivate them? It’s a word that can seem a little too convenient at times. We might say it’s a little lazy to call someone lazy.

I therefore believe we need new ways to discuss students who lack the motivation to engage in learning behaviour. It was partly this conviction that led me in December of last year to join a research project alongside Japanese academic Keita Kikuchi into amotivation and demotivation, concepts that seemed closely linked to laziness. Over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly convinced that ‘lazy’ learners are often students who are struggling to meet psychological needs through learning and I believe there are a range of ways we can help them do this.

I hope you’ll be able to join me in my forthcoming webinar as we explore them together.    

Nick Thorner

My early training experience included product training for primary and secondary courses in Italy. I have since given talks on extensive reading for OUP and on critical thinking and edtech for Oxdosa in recent years. For OUP, I’ve recently undertaken product training and motivation talks in Saudi and talked on motivation at IATEFL and Latvia in support of my most recent book Motivational Teaching. My experience as a writer and teacher continues to be in EAP (I teach humanities through ESL) and IELTS training. I have authored 2 IELTS course books and I have just decided to leave my IELTS examining post so can now participate in IELTS training. I am publishing an academic article in the new year on demotivation too.

Nick Thorner is also the author of ‘Motivational Teaching‘, a guide that explores how motivation works on an individual level and within a classroom environment.