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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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How can we assess global skills? | ELTOC 2020

Global Skills puzzle pieceWe all want our students to develop the global skills needed for modern life and work. We know that our teaching style, our classroom organisation, and what we expect of our students are critical in this. If we want our students to be collaborative and creative we have to provide opportunities for cooperation and problem-solving. However, any attempt to assess these skills raises ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ questions. During my session at ELTOC 2020, I will seek to answer some of these. In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of my approach:

Why do we need to assess this kind of learning?

  1. To signal its importance in the modern world. Language learning cannot be separated from functioning effectively in society. Global skills encourage sensitivity to the needs of others, problem-solving, and how to communicate effectively with those from different cultures. Assessing global skills shows we value them.
  2. To convince students, particularly those who are driven by external rewards, that these skills are important and should be attended to.
  3. Because their assessment helps students know how well they are doing in these skills. It becomes the basis of feedback to students on how well they are doing and what they need to do next to improve.

How do we assess global skills?

Global skills are broad and complex so we need to assess them in ways that does justice to this. If we want to capture performance in a global skill, some conventional assessment methods might not be fit-for-purpose. A multiple-choice test assessing creativity (and there have been some) won’t capture what is important. Nor would giving a mark for social responsibility and well-being be appropriate.

Instead, we will need to use more informal ways of gathering evidence in order to make more general holistic judgements about progress. These are the result of regular observations of student performance and continuous monitoring of their progress. This does not involve lots of extra record-keeping by teachers, it relies on their professional skills of both knowing what the skills involve and informally monitoring individuals’ performance.

As part of our students’ development of global skills we can put the responsibility for gathering evidence of performance on the students. What can they claim they have done to demonstrate a particular cluster of skills? Can they provide evidence of, for example, of creativity and communication? The very act of doing this may be evidence of emotional self-regulation and wellbeing.  

One of the best ways of capturing their achievements is for students to develop individual portfolios. These can be electronic, paper-based, or a blend of both. The aim is to demonstrate their development in each of the global skill clusters. The teacher’s role is to judge, along with their own observations, the student’s progress in skill development. This then provides an opportunity for feedback on where a student has reached and what steps could be taken to progress further.

How should we approach this more holistic approach to the assessment of global skills?

  1. Keep it simple

Our suggestion[i] is that we use just three classifications for each cluster of skills: working towards; achieved; exceeded. Each of these may generate specific feedback – what more is needed; where to go next; how to improve even further.

  1. Trust teacher judgement

The evidence for these holistic judgements comes from the teacher’s own informal evaluation of what is seen, heard and read in the classroom and outside. This is more dependable than narrow standardised skills because of the multiple and continuous opportunities for information gathering. These judgements require teachers to utilise and develop their skills of observation and continuous assessment.

  1. Continuously sample student performance

This does not mean informally assessing every student on every occasion, it involves focusing on different students on different occasions so that, over time, we will have monitored all our students’ performance.

  1. Use any assessments formatively

The purpose of the assessments is to inform students of their performance and to use our judgements to provide feedback on what to do next. The classifications should be used to encourage further development rather than as summative grades.


ELTOC 2020

I hope this is useful. I’ll be expanding on this in my upcoming session at ELTOC 2020. I look forward to seeing you there!


Gordon Stobart is Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, University College London, and an honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford. Having worked as a secondary school teacher and an educational psychologist, he spent twenty years as a senior policy researcher. He was a founder member of the Assessment Reform Group, which has promoted assessment for learning internationally. Gordon is the lead author of our Assessment for Learning Position Paper.

[i] ELT Expert Panel (2019) Global Skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens Oxford University Press


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Well-being, Intercultural Competence and Citizenship in ELT | ELTOC 2020

We are living in exciting times! As language teachers, we are in a privileged position to open up our learners to new ideas and instil important human values while at the same time teaching them a new language that will provide access to a whole new global world! Many of you are probably already aware of the notion of integrating academic content and language learning; that is, integrating non-linguistic and linguistic aims in sustainable ways that do not compromise the development of either skillset or overburden us as educators. In this blog, and especially in my ELTOC presentation with Oxford University Press on February 28, I would like to introduce you to the idea of using the same interweaving of linguistic and nonlinguistic goals in your language teaching—but in this case, the nonlinguistic goals include emotional self-regulation, intercultural competence and citizenship.

Emotional Self-Regulation

According to the Position Paper, Global Skills: Creating Empowered Citizens for the 21st Century (2019), emotional self-regulation is the ability to recognize, identify, and understand one’s emotions and their functions. It includes an awareness of regulation strategies for managing emotions appropriately and it is a basis for wellbeing. Wellbeing involves being able to find supportive social connections and a sense of purpose. It also entails awareness of and engagement in positive physical and mental health practices

However, added benefits surface beyond mere human contentment when teachers focus on their learners’ emotions.  Recent research suggests that attending to the socio-emotional domains of the whole person enhances learning in traditional subjects and academic achievement and promotes positive capabilities in the future workplace (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006; Sammons et al., 2007 Judge & Bono, 2001; Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001). This means that when we interweave well-being goals in our language teaching, we actually improve learning as well!  How amazing is that!  If you would like to find out more information about this marriage of well-being with language learning, what we are calling ‘Positive Language Education’, click here.

For ELTOC 2020, I am going to provide hands-on teaching ideas for developing well-being and emotional self-regulation that include, among others:

*Working with learners’ signature strengths (for a preview: https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths)

*Gratitude and counting blessings

*Random acts of kindness

*Finding silver linings

Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence, another element addressed in the Global Skills (2019) document mentioned above, addresses the abilities learners require to relate with diverse others. The ability to manoeuvre cultural differences peacefully and imaginatively is a survival issue to flourishing in a global world—and one that language learners in particular, must manage. Interestingly, being interculturally competent is intimately related to one’s emotional regulation. Although self-regulation includes one’s ability to look inward, recognize, and deal with one’s own emotions, intercultural competence is dependent upon being able to identify and work with the emotions of diverse others.  Because emotion is most accurately displayed through the nonverbal channel of communication, my ELTOC presentation will provide hands-on ideas about how teachers might raise their language learners’ awareness of the encoding and decoding of nonverbal behaviour, and thus becoming more interculturally competent.

The hands-on teaching ideas I will share include conveying and interpreting intercultural messages via the following codes:

  • Gesture
  • Facial expression
  • Vocal cues
  • Space and touch

Citizenship  

Social responsibility, both locally and globally, is at the heart of citizenship.  Inextricably intertwined with advocating for the elimination of discrimination and respect for diversity, it also encompasses sustainable living practices.  With that in mind, my ELTOC presentation in February will touch upon a variety of teaching ideas inspired by UNESCO’s 17 sustainability goals (https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html):

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal


ELTOC 2020

I would like to end my blog by inviting you to join me on February 28, click the button below to sign up to the ELTOC 2020 waitlist! Sharing ideas about integrating notions of emotional self-regulation, intercultural communication and citizenship will not only be fun, but extremely informative – for both you and your learners. See you then!


Tammy Gregersen is currently teaching and researching at the American University of Sharjah where she also coordinates their Masters in TESOL program. She has co-authored/co-edited several books, with three more in press on topics such as individual differences, nonverbal communication, positive psychology in the language classroom and language teacher education.

Tammy has presented at conferences and taught in graduate programs across the globe which deems an incredible privilege because it taps into her passions for travelling and exploring new cultures.


References

  • Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Steca, P., & Malone, P. S. (2006). Teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs as determinants of job satisfaction and students’ academic achievement: A study at the school level  Journal of School Psychology, 44(6), 473–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jsp.2006.09.001
  • Claxton, G. (2008). What’s the point of school?: Rediscovering the heart of education. Oneworld Publications.
  • Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits—self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability—with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80–92. https:// doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.86.1.80
  • Judge, T. A., Thoresen, C. J., Bono, J. E., & Patton, G. K. (2001). The job satisfaction–job performance relationship: A qualitative and quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 127(3), 376–407. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.127.3.376
  • Mercer, S., MacIntyre, P.D., Gregersen, T., & Talbot, K. (2019). Positive Language Education: Combining Positive Education and Language Education. Theory and Practice of Second Language Acquisition, 4 (2), pp. 11–31.
  • Sammons, P., Day, C., Kington, A., Gu, Q., Stobart, G., & Smees, R. (2007). Exploring variations in teachers’ work, lives and their effects on pupils: Key findings and implications from a longitudinal mixed‐method study. British Educational Research Journal, 33(5), 681–701. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920701582264
  • Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293–311. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054980902934563

 

 

 


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What’s new in the new Oxford 3000™️? | ELTOC 2020

A changing language

The Oxford ELT Dictionaries team has relaunched its core word list, the Oxford 3000, billed as ‘the most important words to learn in English’, 14 years on from its initial launch in 2005.

So let’s start with a brainstorm: what has changed in the last 14 years? Jot down any words or phrases that occur to you. Here are some images to get you started.

I’m sure you can think of more.

The items in blue are all now headwords in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary online but were not included in the seventh edition of the dictionary, published in 2005. These words, things and concepts either did not exist or barely existed at that time.

The influence of smartphones and social media can also be clearly seen in the revised Oxford 3000.  Words new to the list in the area of media and technology include app, blog, download, edit, scan and update – which all existed in 2005 but have become much more central to our lives and communication since then.

The two criteria we used to determine which words should be included in the revised Oxford 3000 were frequency and relevance.  Frequency was measured in the 2-billion-word Oxford English Corpus. Relevance was determined by measuring frequency in a specially created corpus of ELT Secondary and Adult coursebooks. This enabled us to capture those words – such as cafe and T-shirt – that occur frequently in teaching texts and are familiar to learners from a low level, but are not among the most frequent words in a general corpus.

Focus on topics

One result of this increased focus on the texts that learners are actually using to study English is an increase in vocabulary connected with topics that are popular in ELT courses and exams, including sports (athlete, basketball, champion, skiing, stadium, tennis and more), culture (celebrity, classical, creative, gallery, historic, portrait, sculpture, venue), film and TV (cartoon, detective, episode, genre, script, setting) and travel and transport (airline, crew, destination, tourism).

Overall, about 200 words are new to the list. Typically, they are more concrete, lower-level words than the words they have displaced. All the texts in the coursebook corpus are from courses that have been carefully graded against the CEFR. This has made it possible for us to analyse the profile of different vocabulary items across the different CEFR levels and to assign a level to each word. The levels are for guidance only – it is impossible to be definitive about the level of any individual word. Different learners may well encounter the same word at different levels. But broadly speaking, the level assigned represents the level at which we would expect most learners to recognize and understand the word if they read it or hear it spoken – even if they do not yet use it in their own writing or speaking.

The most important words to learn in English

In the revised Oxford 3000, 900 words have been graded at A1 level, 800 at A2, 700 at B1 and 600 B2. This tapering profile is deliberate because this is intended as a core vocabulary, not a complete vocabulary. The more learners progress, the more they will want to supplement this core vocabulary with items that are off-list. It is impossible to prescribe what this additional vocabulary should be: it will vary according to the needs and interests of each individual learner. The core list, on the other hand, provides a firm foundation for all learners, whatever their learning context. To learn more about what is important in a core vocabulary, see Julie Moore’s blog here.

To see the full, revised Oxford 3000 visit www.oxford3000.com. Here you will also find the brand new Oxford 5000 – an extension of the list for advanced level learners, including 2,000 more words at B2-C1 level. Also available is the new Oxford Phrase List – 750 common phrases including idioms, phrasal verbs, collocations and prepositional phrases, graded from A1 to C1.


ELTOC 2020

Join Diana at ELTOC 2020 for a webinar on helping learners with their core vocabulary using the Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000. During Diana’s session, you’ll learn how the lists were compiled, the benefits for learners, and how you can use the lists in your teaching.


Diana Lea taught English to learners and trainee teachers in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the UK before joining Oxford University Press in 1994, where she works in the English Language Teaching Division on dictionaries and other vocabulary resources for learners of English. She is the editor of the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus and the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English. Most recently she has been working on Oxford Learner’s Word Lists and preparing the tenth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, to be published in January 2020.

 


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Teaching Phrasal Verbs – A New Approach | ELTOC 2020

The Curse: When Adam was expelled from Eden, it seems that God had an afterthought… ‘[Because of what thou hast done]… in sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground], thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee …in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread… Oh – and thou shalt have to study phrasal verbs as well’ (Genesis 3:14 – 19). Yes, I do realise that the last bit is an addition to the original text, but I am sure that this is how many learners of English feel…

What is so special about phrasal verbs? Actually not much. Phrasal verbs are just like any other lexical items in English; that said, there are some good reasons why learners find them such a pain:

  • They are verbs and as such they are less concrete and ‘free-standing’ than most nouns (a hammer is a hammer, but what is ‘look up’?);
  • Many phrasal verbs tend to have more than one meaning (e.g. make up [an excuse] / make up [as in ‘kiss and make up’]);
  • The verb often has no direct connection with the meaning (e.g. ‘What have you been getting up to?’);
  • The fact that there are many, unrelated phrasal verbs with a similar form which mean totally different things (e.g. make up/make up for/make for etc.).

How to approach phrasal verbs: Here is the main idea: just because phrasal verbs can be difficult for our learners that does not mean that we have to come up with new ways of presenting or practising these lexical items. In fact, I would like to argue that in trying too hard to help our learners we often do more harm than good (yes, there is going to be a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in my upcoming webinar).

So – why should I attend this session? As it happens there are a number of new ways to help our learners. In my webinar, I am going to recommend three research-based strategies discovered by cognitive scientists which are certain to make your teaching far more effective. In fact, I would go so far as to say that by using these simple strategies, you are going to become at least 30% more efficient in teaching phrasal verbs. Here is an added bonus: these strategies also work for anything else you might want to teach your students – whether this is tenses, writing, functional language, history, biology, economics – anything! Here’s a taster of how it works.

Generation:  This strategy involves asking the students to do something which they lack the knowledge to do. This could be asking them to solve a type of maths problem they have never encountered before or to list the reasons for the French Revolution which they have not been taught. In our field, this could involve asking students to describe the picture of a living room when they do not yet have the vocabulary to do so, or to write a formal email when they have not been shown how to do it. The idea is that the frustration students experience actually prepares their mind to receive the new knowledge and heightens their level of alertness so they experience an ‘A-ha!’ moment when they see the right answer or the right model. ‘Unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem encourage deep processing of the answer when it is later supplied, creating fertile ground for its encoding, in a way that simply reading the answer cannot. It is better to solve a problem than to memorise a solution. It is better to attempt a solution and supply the incorrect answer than not to make the attempt’ (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel 2014 – p. 88).

Retrieval:  Retrieval is the single most effective strategy cognitive scientists have managed to discover. Here is the discovery in a nutshell: whereas most of us teachers focus on input, thinking that the best way to help our students is to structure the information in such a way that it ‘goes in’ more easily, it turns out that students learn best by trying to retrieve the information, that is when they try to get information out of their heads! ‘Retrieval practice occurs when learners recall and apply multiple examples of previously learned knowledge or skills after a period of forgetting’ (Agarwal & Bain 2019 – p. 37). Put another way, you just ask your students to remember things you have taught them. The simplest form of retrieval is when you just ask your class to write down everything they can remember at the end of the session. The more often we do this, the better. As cognitive scientists have shown, the problem with ‘forgetting’ is not so much that we forget – we just cannot access the information inside our head. ‘The more times we draw information from memory, the more deeply we carve out the pathway to it and the more we make that piece of information available for use in the future’ (Lang 2016 – p. 28).

Spacing:  The last strategy is the simplest thing you have ever heard: researchers have discovered that while massed practice (cramming) helps students remember things better in the short term (which is why they invariably do this before exams), in the long term this leads to very little learning. Instead, if one were to study exactly the same material but spread the study over a number of shorter sessions, allowing some time to elapse between them, the difference in the resulting long-term retention can be truly impressive. In Carey’s words ‘nothing in learning science comes close in terms of immediate, significant, and reliable improvements to learning’ (Carey 2014 – p. 76). It seems that when we stop studying and we engage in something else, our brain keeps working in the background, organising things and making connections without us realising it. ‘When we let time pass and space things out, students’ knowledge has the time to solidify and ‘simmer’ ‘ (Agarwal & Bain 2019 – p. 100). So, instead of asking students to engage in retrieval at the end of the lesson, you might ask them to do so at the beginning of the next lesson. Here is another idea: instead of giving students homework on what you did during the lesson, why not give them homework on something you did the previous week?

What about those phrasal verbs? So how can we apply all these ideas? How can we use them to facilitate the learning of phrasal verbs? Well, if I were to tell you everything here, you would not need to attend ELTOC 2020, would you?


ELTOC 2020

Suffice it to say that I intend to make the session a practical one and give you at least four practical, actionable ideas. So do please register, and feel free to bring a friend along!


Nick Michelioudakis (B. Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) has been active in ELT for many years as a teacher, examiner, presenter and teacher trainer. He has travelled and given seminars and workshops in many countries all over the world.

He has written extensively on Methodology, though he is better known for his ‘Psychology and ELT’ articles in which he draws on insights from such disciplines as Marketing, Management and Social Psychology and which have appeared in numerous newsletters and magazines.

His areas of interest include Student Motivation, Learner Independence, Teaching one-to-one, and Humour.


References

Agarwal, P. & Bain, P. (2019) Powerful Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Brown, P., Roediger, H., McDaniel, M. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge Massachusetts. Belknap Harvard

Carey, B. (2014) How We Learn. London: Macmillan

Lang, J. (2016) Small Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass