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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)


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Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed

Image by © Laura Doss/Corbis

Disrupting our definition of Business English in the 21st Century

In a recent Washington Post article entitled ‘The surprising thing Google learned about its employees – and what it means for today’s students’, it was reported that Google had carried out a survey into the key characteristics for achieving success as a Google employee. Surprisingly, knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) did not appear first. Instead, the survey placed skills such as coaching, insight, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, dealing with complex ideas at the top of the list.

As a Business English teacher and course book author, I have a natural interest in these emerging ‘soft skills’ which reflect the needs of the 21st century workplace skills. I feel it’s my job to make sure my course materials and the contents of my lessons reflect the English needed to support these emerging skills. However, I also feel that for sometimes Business English materials have resisted integrating these skills into course programmes because they don’t easily fit into our longstanding definition of what Business English is.

If we go back about 25 years, the prevailing definition of ‘Business English’ has been:

  • Language: Like General English course it covered grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, the four skills etc.
  • Communication Skills: Unlike General English, Business English aimed to train students in how to present more effectively, how to run a meeting, how to negotiate etc.
  • Professional content: Business English books also dealt with topics such as production processes or marketing and sales; in other words, we taught business concepts alongside the vocabulary required to talk about them.

Since then, this three-part definition has dominated the contents and structure of most Business English classrooms and courses. And yet, some of the new skills don’t fit comfortably into the definition. Where exactly would you place ‘insight’ or ‘empathy’ into the three categories? Do thinking skills (critical or creative) require their own category? Is it even the job of a Business English to ‘teach’ these items alongside English?

These were just some of the questions that confronted me when I returned to work on the second edition of Business Result. The first edition of Business Result was published exactly ten years ago and so it naturally reflected the three-part structure of language, communication skills and professional content. But on returning to re-author the materials a decade later, it was apparent to me that we needed to incorporate the demands of newer 21st Century workplace skills. It’s the same challenge that faces many Business English teachers today – that we strive to prepare our learners not only with English but also with the professional skills they will need in the next few decades.

On March 16th Oxford University Press holds its first Business English Online Conference and my webinar, entitled ‘Teaching more than English’, will assess the kinds of professional skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. We’ll consider how we might integrate them into our course design and lessons, and our approach to teaching and training our students to operate more effectively. The session encourages you to participate and comment based on your own experiences and I’ll also share some practical ideas to include in your Business English lessons.

Register now for Oxford’s first Business English Online Conference where John Hughes will be presenting a webinar on Teaching more than English – giving students the professional skills to succeed.


John Hughes is an award-winning author with over 30 ELT titles including the course book series ‘Business Result’ (Oxford) and the resource series ‘ETpedia’ (Pavilion). He has trained teachers at all levels of experience and background. In particular, he specializes in materials writing and offers consultancy and training in this area. His blog is www.elteachertrainer.com.


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21st Century Skills and the Path to Fluency

Students Talking In A ClassroomKathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina are American ELT authors and teacher-trainers who have taught young learners in Japan for 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, courses for young learners published by Oxford University Press. Kathleen and Charles are active teachers who promote an inquiry-based approach to learning, where students develop English language fluency as they discover the world around them.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning in Washington D.C. strongly endorses the development of 21st century skills in modern education.[1] This coalition of educators and business leaders has created a framework of skills considered to be essential for a student’s future success in the 21st century.

Along with strong content knowledge and interdisciplinary themes, the Partnership stresses the need for the following “learning and innovation skills” among students to prepare them for the future:

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Though originally intended for students in the US, the framework has been successfully adopted by hundreds of educational agencies and organizations globally.

Not surprisingly, 21st century skills have become an important focus in English language learning (ELL) classrooms as well. In fact, it could be argued that effective English language educators have been incorporating these skills in their curriculum for many years, for the very reason that they contribute to language fluency among their students.

Let’s look at each “learning and innovation skill” as it applies to ELL classrooms, and how it offers opportunities for increased fluency.

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Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking is a student’s ability to move from the lower-order thinking skills of remembering and understanding to the higher-order skills of applying, analyzing, and evaluating (see Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy below).

Through critical thinking, students process information in a variety of ways – for example, through prioritizing, comparing/contrasting, and classifying/categorizing. Learning is real and relevant, and offers many opportunities for students to discuss the content meaningfully.

21stcskills3

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy[2]

Example:

A Venn diagram is one way to challenge students to think critically about information. A Venn diagram involves comparing and contrasting, and can be used effectively when introducing topics. For example, students could place a vocabulary list of sports into a Venn diagram labeled “played indoors,” “played outdoors,” or “played both indoors and outdoors.”

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The teacher could provide the following language prompt to guide students:

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Creativity

Creativity is closely associated with critical thinking, and is placed at the top of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy as one of the highest-order thinking skills. Creativity allows students to make new connections, to take what they have learned to solve problems, and to express themselves in unique ways.

Example:

Problem-solving offers opportunities for students to be creative. For example, if the lesson’s topic is about plants, students can be asked for ideas on how to use plants in or around school. Students work in small groups to brainstorm ideas and draw illustrations, with the teacher moving around the room offering language support. Then, in a whole-class activity, ideas are listed and prioritized on the board.

Possible language prompt:

21stcskills7

Collaboration

Collaboration is the ability to work with others, to share ideas, to discuss options, and to compromise. Working in pairs or small groups is one of the most effective ways for students to build their social language skills while reinforcing newly learned vocabulary and grammar.

Example:

Collaborative projects often involve groups of four students. Students can work together to create a time capsule, present energy-saving ideas, or report on school news.

Possible language prompts for collaborative dialogue:

21stcskills8

In many class activities, teachers can lead students through the following progression to build collaborative skills:

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This gives students the opportunity to first work on their own, then to share their answers or ideas with a partner, then again in groups of three or four. As the target language is practiced at each step, students become more able and willing to participate and contribute when the activity reaches the whole-class stage.

Communication

Communication is the means through which critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration reach their full potential. As students work together to analyze, solve, and create, their receptive and productive language skills are continually challenged and strengthened.

 

Incorporating 21st century skills into an ELL classroom offers opportunities for students to listen, speak, read, and write in ways that are meaningful and intrinsically motivated. Language is learned and used to achieve individual and group goals. English becomes a means to an end, a tool through which the world is questioned, discovered, evaluated, and constructed. This process creates self-motivation, promotes cooperation, and encourages real communication. Fluency is fostered each and every step of the way.

 

References

[1] http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

[2] https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2014/03/03/creativity-in-the-young-learner-classroom/


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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


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21st Century Skills in ELT Part 2: the question-centred approach

classroom_students_teenagersShaun Crowley has worked as an EFL teacher and a marketing manager for an international ELT publisher. He is the founder of www.linguavote.com, an e-learning platform for learners of English that features social learning and gamification. Follow Shaun on Twitter: @shauncrowleyIn Part 1 of this series, Shaun Crowley considered the importance of 21st Century Skills in ELT, concluding that the group of competencies that define this term are indeed important to English language learning. In the next four posts, Shaun continues by offering ideas to help you integrate some of these skills into your classes.

Critical thinking skills are some of the key “21st Century” competencies, so it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see publishers position their course books with this benefit up-front, from primary to tertiary level.

Here is an idea to help you maximize opportunities for critical thinking, so that your students are better prepared for the rigours of university education and the professional workplace.

Adopt a “question-centred” approach to your classes

Since the recent curriculum reforms in the US, a question-centred approach to teaching has been gaining popularity in schools. Teachers start a module with a big question. Students consider this question critically, and over the course of the module they synthesize information to form a conclusion in the form of a final homework assignment.

This approach first made its way into ELT with the publication of Q Skills for Success. But whatever course you are using, so long as you have enough time to step out of the materials, it should be possible to customize your lessons to feature an “essential question”.

For example, Headway Elementary Unit 4 is called “Take it easy” and follows the topic of leisure activities. Before you start this unit, you could write this question on the board:

“What makes the perfect leisure activity?”

Perhaps search for a YouTube video that offers a nice way-in to thinking about the question… here’s one I found following a quick search:

Pre-teach some of the main vocabulary items that fit into the question theme. Then spend a few minutes discussing the question and gauging students’ opinions before you open the book.

As you go through the unit, use the various listening and reading texts as opportunities to return to the big question, encouraging students to synthesize and evaluate the different input.  For example, in the “Take it easy” unit, there’s a text called “My favourite season.” Here you could ask:

Is the perfect leisure activity one that you can do in any season?

Return to the big question any time you see a link to the course material you are using. Then at the end of the unit, have students write an answer to the question for homework. If students are not in the routine of doing homework, round off the question with a class discussion.

Have you adopted a similar approach to your classes? If you have, we’d love to hear how you apply the question-centred method.