Life in the twenty-first century can be complex and stressful. Many of the interpersonal and interactive skills that we need in our everyday lives – things such as digital literacies, intercultural competence, and emotional self-regulation – have not always been formally taught in schools. The movement to embrace Global Skills in education is now looking to change that. Continue reading
The world is changing at a rapid pace and it is hard for educators to even imagine what kind of skills and competences their learners will need 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years from now. What is clear, however, is that traditional academic subjects alone will not be enough. Many curricula across the globe already include some form of life skills education. It has increasingly become the norm that many educators are expected to integrate the teaching of these skills into their subject teaching. Yet, the support and training educators receive varies widely. This is where we hope our Position Paper can help ELT teachers, in particular, to reflect on and find ways to teach global skills alongside their language aims in sustainable ways.
After having examined many diverse frameworks for global skills, we have distilled them into five clusters. These are:
- Communication and collaboration
- Creativity and critical thinking
- Intercultural competence and citizenship
- Emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
- Digital literacies
How an ELT teacher approaches the teaching of these skills will depend on their own interests, competences, resources, and local curricular constraints. There is no one single way to approach this. We have proposed a range of teaching approaches stretching from single activities to extended projects. Each teacher will select ideas as suits them and their learners. Here are a few ideas to consider and if you would like to know more, please download our free Global Skills Position Paper.
1. Compare different media sources:
In the era of ‘fake news’, critical thinking skills are more important than ever! You can help older learners develop these skills as part of a longer activity, by asking them to analyse different news articles.
Choose a current topic in the news to discuss with your learners. Give them a newspaper article or a news bulletin on the topic and ask them to share their response with a partner. Then, with the class, examine the same story in different media sources. Ask them to consider the author, the intended audience, the emotions involved, and the strategies that are used to engage the reader.
Do you want to develop your students’ digital literacies at the same time? Ask your students to fact check one of the articles online, using more than one source of information. They should think about which source is the most reliable and which to trust.
2. Create digital reports:
Try asking your learners to create a digital report on a global issue like endangered animals or inequality! They should work in pairs, and use their mobile devices to video or audio record a short news report about the issue, describing the problem and offering suggested solutions. Learners can share these reports with each other online, and give each other comments and feedback. The project could also be extended, and you could ask learners to create a detailed proposal for solving the issue. This will help them think critically and learn to solve problems.
3. Ask open-ended questions:
Simply changing the style of your questions can help your learners develop their creativity and critical thinking skills. Open-ended questions encourage students to interpret and analyse information, helping them to practice these essential skills. You can easily integrate these questions into your everyday teaching by asking questions about classroom topics – or you could ask questions about important issues to help your students develop their citizenship skills. For example, you could ask older learners questions like:
- What is the most serious environmental issue in our town/region/country?
- What causes this issue? Who is responsible for it?
- What can we, as individuals, do about it?
You could ask younger learners questions like:
- How can we help look after our pets?
- How can we care for the animals around us?
This kind of activity provides a good foundation for deeper work on critical thinking in longer activities. It also helps students to practice their language skills by encouraging them to respond in detail.
4. Encourage project work:
Project work is one of the best ways for learners to develop their global skills. By working in groups, setting their own agenda, and personalising their approach, learners feel more engaged and develop multiple skills at once.
One example involves asking students to design their own project to address a problem in their local or global community. Secondary school learners could design projects around:
- Working locally with people in an elderly care home who need to improve their technological skills to connect with others
- Organising a fundraiser or protest march to help prevent climate change
These examples will encourage older students to develop skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Learners will also develop their citizenship and intercultural competence by investigating global issues and thinking about which groups of people need support. They will learn to think about their local and global communities, and learn how to address important issues.
Learners can also report on the project online to develop their digital literacies encourage others to engage in similar projects.
5. Start small:
Are you unsure how to begin teaching global skills like communication and collaboration? Try starting small! Every lesson, integrate a short language-learning activity that includes a focus on one of these global skills. Later, you can begin to integrate larger, more focused activities and sequences of tasks which allow for a more in-depth approach to developing the skills – including project work.
Do you want more great tips, including an exclusive Teachers’ Toolkit? Download our expert advice now!
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area.
Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an online training and development consultancy. She is a teacher, trainer, and educational technology consultant who works with teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for EFL teachers in professional journals and has written several prizewinning methodology books.
Both Sarah and Nicky are lead authors of the position paper, Global Skills: Creating empowered 21st century learners.
Take 21st Century Skills to the next level! Read our latest position paper.
There have been numerous mentions of the importance of focusing on skills, such as building resilience, self-control, empathy, curiosity, love of learning, etc. in the EFL classroom. We are becoming more and more aware of what these are and how to help our students develop in these areas. However, as these skills are all subjective and seem completely intangible, as teachers we tend to refrain from even considering assessing these. After teaching a set of vocabulary or a grammar point, we are naturally used to evaluating improvement through different tests or tasks, but how do we assess the development of skills such as collaboration or self-control?
Why do we need to assess these?
Most education systems still put more emphasis on academic knowledge, assessed through tests by grades, so students might have the impression that this is all they need for their future. We also need to assess a variety of other skills in the EFL classroom to shed light on the importance of these for our students. This can demonstrate how being creative, co-operative or accepting helps students to live a more successful and happier life outside the classroom, beyond learning a language. It is also key to involve all the stakeholders, such as parents and colleagues, in this process. Let them know which skills you have been working on, the ones where your students shine and which ones they might need more support in other classes as well as in the home environment. Careful and on-going assessment of these skills, therefore, becomes equally paramount as assessing language knowledge and application.
The key in this assessment process is engaging the students themselves in helping them realise their own potential so that they can take responsibility for their improvement. Teacher assessment and guidance also plays a vital role in this developmental process. Above all, we need to empower students to be able to set learning goals for themselves, reflect and analyse their own behaviour and draw up action plans that suit their learning preferences. Here are a few tips on how this can be achieved.
How can we assess these skills?
We can help students improve in these areas by using the Assessment For Learning framework that “…is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide: where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Assessment reform group (2002)
1. Brainstorm skills used for particular tasks
After setting a collaborative language task, ask students to brainstorm skills they might need for success by imagining the process. For example, a group project where students have to come up with a survey questionnaire, conduct the survey and present their findings through graphs. Students might suggest teamwork, openness towards different ideas, listening to each other, etc. If you can think of other important skills, add these to the list (e.g. creativity in coming up with good questions, ways in which they represent their findings, etc.) Students can assess themselves, or each other, with this check-list at the end of the task, but it could also become a reference list to refer to throughout the process. Make sure there are not more than five skills at this stage, to make self-reflection and peer-assessment manageable.
2. Reflect and Predict.
Ask students to identify their current emotional state, as this might play an important role in their ability to use specific skills. Follow this up with questions to predict their competence in each skill area, on a scale from 1 to 5 (1=not at all…5=very well). Students can use their answers as a quiet self-reflective task or the basis of group discussion.
“How do I feel right now?”
“How well will I be able to work with others? Why?”
“How patient will I be with others? Why?”
“How creative will I be with ideas?”
Getting students to reflect and predict their use of such skills from time to time gives them more focus and helps them become more self-aware. It is important to encourage students to do this without any judgement, simply as a way to evaluate their current feelings and self-image.
3. Reflective questionnaires
The same questions as above can be used at the end of a task too as a way for students to reflect on how they used the particular skills retrospectively. This can then form the basis of a group discussion in which students share their experiences. Remind students that it is important that they offer their full attention to each other during the discussion without any judgement.
4. Setting weekly personal goals
Once students become acquainted with such self-reflective practice, you can ask them at the beginning of the week to set personal goals for themselves depending on the area they feel needs some improvement. To encourage students to set these goals, it is a good idea to share some of your own personal goals for the week first. For example, you can tell them ‘This week I aim to be more open and curious, rather than having concrete ideas about how things should turn out in my lessons.’ Modelling such behaviour can become the main drive for students to be able to set their own personal goals.
5. Using rubrics.
Design assessment rubrics for the main skills being used for self and peer-assessment. Create these as a whole group task, getting input from the students. This could also serve as an assessment tool for the teacher.
6. Peer-observation and skills assessment
As students are motivated and learn a lot through observing each other, you can set peer-observation and assessment tasks for particular tasks, say role-plays or group discussions. Put students in groups and ask them to agree on who the observer is going to be. It is key that there is a consensus on this. Then give the observer a checklist of the skills in focus, where they can make note of how they see the behaviour of their peers. The observer does not contribute to the group task, only observes the behaviour of their peers. At the end of the group task, the observer tells their peers about the things they noted.
7. End-of-term tutorials
At the end of the term, it is a good idea to have a few minutes individually with students and using the checklist and the questions mentioned in points 1,2 and 3 above to discuss how they see their development in the skills in focus. This shows students the importance of these skills and gives them a sense of security and self-assurance of ‘I matter’. It may be challenging to find the time to do this for most of us, teachers. Allocating two weeks for the tutorials with a specific time-window can give you a manageable time-frame, however. The tutorials can then be conducted either during lesson time while you set some free tasks – say watching a film in English – for students to do and/or a couple of hours in the afternoons after school, for which students sign up in ten-minute chat-slots with the teacher.
Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses a skills-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:
Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.
Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).
In the simplest sense, global skills can be thought of as the skills which are essential to being a life-long learner and to be successful in the rapidly changing and unpredictable world of the 21st century. As teachers, we need to equip students for situations and jobs which do not currently exist and which we cannot confidently predict.
Global skills are not restricted to any particular subject on the curriculum but are transferable across all subjects and to life beyond school.
Global skills can be grouped into five clusters, all of which are relevant to the ELT context.
- communication and collaboration
- creativity and critical thinking
- intercultural competence and citizenship
- emotional self-regulation and wellbeing
- digital literacies.
While most teachers would be convinced that it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop global skills in their institutions, it is not always easy to see how this can be done when time is already limited. If we are to take on this challenge, we need ways to incorporate global skills into the classroom without creating an extra workload for ourselves, or by eating into precious class time.
Below are three such suggestions of how we might develop global skills.
In a traditional classroom, the teacher will get students to work individually (think) on an activity and then check (share) the answers with the whole class. In the think-pair-share model, the same process is followed but before the final checking stage, the teacher asks students to compare their answers in pairs (pair). This stage might only take 15 to 30 seconds in total but the benefits are huge because it leads to communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and students increased confidence and motivation.
- Comparing to one’s own culture
Many ELT coursebooks have cultural content or specific cultural sections. The teacher can engage students in this by asking them to say the similarities and differences to the students’ own context from what is stated in the coursebook. This is feasible even if students have a low language level. For example, if the lesson is about what a person from a particular country has for breakfast, the teacher could list the items of food on the board and then ask students to say which ones are similar or different to what they would have for breakfast. The teacher could supply the English equivalents for the local food items. This could then be followed up by students using both lists to create their ideal breakfast.
- The option of writing or video recording
When asking for a piece of work that might typically be in written form, such as a book report, summary, the final product of a project, etc., teachers can give the option of doing it as a video recording. This pushes students to work on most of the five clusters mentioned above. It also has the added advantage of allowing the dyslexic students to flourish without having to worry about people criticizing their spelling and handwriting or having to deliberately choose simple vocabulary because having to find the spelling of the words they would like to use is too time-consuming. Many students will actually work more on producing a video than a piece of written work, especially if they know this will be shared and evaluated by fellow students.
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Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995 and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from stress, is an important attribute for anyone facing a difficult situation. In English Language Teaching there is a focus on encouraging students to build their individual resilience to aide their learning and improve their mental health. There has also been an increasing focus on building resilience in communities that have fled conflict, and how language classrooms can be a safe space for learners to work through the effects of trauma.
How does learning English support the resilience of an individual?
In ELT there has been a particular focus on building individual resilience, as education places more importance on learners’ mental health. Resilience of students, particularly from communities of migrants and refugees, can be built by combining personal development with the development of skills for employment. While acquiring age-appropriate levels of literacy and mastering a new language, it is essential to ensure that spoken and written forms of the mother tongue are also affirmed. This bilingual resilience-building model results in better academic performance, literacy rates and language learning, all of which enhance children’s likely success in education and future employment. Thus, success is related to developing the mother tongue as well as additional languages such as English.
How does a bilingual resilience-building model support communities that have fled conflict?
Opportunities to use home languages when learning English create inclusive learning environments less likely to marginalise children based on social, ethnic, or gender. In addition to benefiting academic performance and language development, these language programmes also foster inter-generational ethnic connections, increase family cohesion, and support cultural identities. This is achieved by helping English language learners bring home languages and cultures into the classroom.
Where can I learn more?
Below is an infographic from ELT Journals, outlining the role the ELT classroom plays in building personal and academic resilience. You can find the full article, including references, below: