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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.


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21st Century Skills in ELT Part 1: The rise of 21st Century Skills

Blended and cooperative learning in EAP

Shaun 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: @shauncrowley

In ELT we often regard our profession to be independent of teaching subjects like maths and science. That said, many of the approaches and materials we use are influenced by wider trends in education – from constructivist thinking in the 80’s that influenced the publication of Headway, to the recent “flipped learning” approach that’s inspiring some EFL teachers to rethink blended learning.

In American mainstream education there is an increasing emphasis on a concept referred to as “21st Century Skills” – a collection of various competencies that are regarded as being important for success in life, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, digital literacy, creativity, problem solving, environmental awareness and self-expression.

Now let’s be honest – it’s a bit of a buzzword, with a meaning that’s open to interpretation. But the essential concept is pertinent: the ability to combine the subject you’re learning, with the skills and awareness that you need to apply your knowledge of the subject successfully.

In ELT terms, I would interpret 21st Century Skills as:

  • Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating materials written in English
  • Developing a “voice” on a topic and expressing it in English
  • Researching materials and solving problems that are presented in English
  • Being creative in English and taking communicative risks in pursuit of fluency
  • Collaborating in diverse international teams, communicating in English
  • Respecting international cultures and sensitivities
  • Presenting yourself professionally in English
  • Being able to use software to express yourself in English
  • Being able to navigate software and digital content that’s presented in English
  • Having the self-discipline to study English independently, and “learning how to learn”.

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list but already it is clear how relevant 21st Century Skills are to ELT, particularly in today’s interconnected world where English is the lingua-franca.

And when we look specifically at the expected outcomes of English classes in schools and universities, it is even more evident that 21st Century Skills have increasing importance.

21st Century skills and the changing ELT landscape

When I first started promoting ELT materials 10 years ago, there was a sizable market of end-users we playfully referred to as “EFNAR” (English for no apparent reason).

These days, English is considered in most places as a foundation subject, a universal requirement for success in later life. Students are aware that English is a necessity for their CVs, particularly if they harbour ambitions to work for an international company.

In many countries, English has become a preparatory subject in universities, partly because of the rise of English medium instruction on undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

These trends have implications on the type of English students must learn, but they also have implications on the interpersonal, cognitive and technical skills that students need to apply to function effectively in English.

Meanwhile, our students’ online worlds are bringing 21st Century skills to the surface even when they are at home… in gaming (collaborating as part of an international team on the Xbox), social networking (sharing thoughts with an international audience), and internet browsing (being able to quickly evaluate the validity of English websites found on Google).

So if we ask how ELT will be influenced by future trends in mainstream education, I would suggest that 21st Century Skills will become a lot more integrated into the language learning process.

What might that look like?  In my next posts I will offer four ideas for integrating some of these competencies in class and as part of a blended learning curriculum.


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Practical ideas for the Business English classroom: Part Two – Making the most of video

Business English classroom Making the most of videoThis is the second article of a three-part Business English series by ELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes. Here, he looks at how the use of video can support business English teaching.

One survey into the use of video in education reports that teachers increasingly welcome this tool as a means to support learning. For example, 68% of teachers believe video stimulates discussion, 66% say video increases motivation and 62% think their teaching is more effective by using video. Please see the link provided at the end of the article for more details of this survey.

These figures are all based on responses to education in general, but I’d suggest that if you were to research similar figures for Business English teachers, you’d probably find the percentages were even higher. That’s simply because video lends itself in so many ways to Business English teaching.

Here are five examples of how to integrate video into your Business English lessons, with suggestions for classroom activities.

Presentation skills

The internet is full of videos showing different types of business presentations. They range from the highly professional presentations we associate with speakers on TED to much more basic material. With all of these we can assess the presenters’ performances with our students and decide what techniques and language will help improve their presentations. In addition, we can also video our own students giving presentations. By using the video recorder on a basic mobile device, you can record a student’s performance, use it to give them feedback, and let them self-assess their own presentation.

Watch this presentation taken from TED talks. It’s called ‘The magic washing machine’ and gives students a masterclass in how to use visual aids in a presentation.

Workplace and process videos

I once taught business and technical English in a factory instead of a language school. This was much easier than being in a normal classroom because I could take the students onto the factory floor and have them talk about their workplace. However, we don’t always teach students at their workplace, so video can help. For example, ask your students to make short videos of their workplace and film the key stages of a process. Then they can bring these into class and describe what is happening on screen. You’ll also find a range of videos online that showcase different companies and how they work. These are a great resource to teach the language for describing workplaces and their processes.

This process video shows how IKEA produces its furniture. Students can watch and note down the different stages or information about the company and its structure.

Infographic video

One modern genre of video is the ‘infographic video’ (also called ‘kinetic typography video’). It shows animated text on screen which merges with images and may have narration or simply some background music. You can write comprehension questions for students to answer whilst they watch. Many business infographic videos tend to include lots of numbers and figures, so I give students the numbers shown in the video and ask them to note down what these refer to.

This infographic video looks at the importance of using video in business.

Interviews

One of the simplest video formats is the interview or a business person talking directly to the camera. If you want to teach the language of specific business area, then find an interview with an expert in the field. Alternatively, make your own video by preparing a set of questions and interview a real business person to show in class. If you teach very experienced business people, then interview them and ask their permission to show their video to another class. In particular, if you teach different one-to-one classes, interview each of your students with the same set of questions. Then show the videos of the students to each other. It’s a nice way to bring other people into your one-to-one lessons and for students to share their knowledge.

Take a look at this interview with an expert talking about cultural differences in business. It’s taken from the videos in the Business Result series.

Short films

Using short films in a lesson can add some fun and variety. For example, one short video called ‘The Black Hole’ looks at what happens when an office worker photocopies a black hole which has magical properties. Play it to students and ask them to think what they would use a ‘black hole’ for at work. Another short film called ‘Signs’ lasting about twelve minutes offers all sorts of opportunities for use in the classroom. The first two minutes show a young man going through the same work routine every day – a perfect springboard into the use of the present simple, and for getting students to talk about their routines.

Here is the ‘The Black Hole’ video, and here is ‘Signs’.

And finally, here is the survey I mentioned at the beginning of the article about using video in education.

 

This article first appeared in the July 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.