This year may have been difficult for everyone across the globe, but it has been especially challenging for teachers. They have had to transform their lessons into online sessions and adapt to rules and advice to keep their students safe and make sure they can continue learning. In this two-part blog series, we contacted this year’s Headway Scholars to find out more about their pandemic teaching experiences and any advice they have for our teaching community. Read their stories below! Continue reading
Valeria, a 22-year-old computer engineer and programmer, first started learning English from her father at home in Costa Rica.
“He spent time in Canada and the States. But I think I’m better at English than him now – don’t tell him, though!”
English proficiency for a brighter future
Her father saw the opportunities that can come from learning English during his travels overseas, and now Valeria has seen them firsthand too. “I have better job opportunities, and I get paid more because I can prove I have a great level of English.” Continue reading
What is collaborative language learning?
One of the most satisfying experiences that I have as an instructor is when I have my class make pairs or groups and then, after a few moments, I hear lively chatter. Moving around the classroom, I hear students using the vocabulary and structures that we studied in class. Yet they are doing more than just reciting what they learned in this lesson; they are combining the learning goals of the lesson with the language that they already know in a personalized and creative manner. A casual observer might think that this was break-time or an opportunity for the class to relax. But while I hope they are having fun, I know that they are actually hard at work. This is the culminating activity that we have worked towards together as a class. It is collaborative learning in action. Continue reading
What is autism? You may or may not have taught individuals in your English language teaching classrooms with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is linked to brain development and can affect the way learners socialise, communicate, and behave.
Did you know? Many girls go undiagnosed with autism or are diagnosed later in life because they present differently to boys. By this, I mean they behave in a different way that may cover up the signs. For boys, their autism is often externally expressed, whereas girls tend to conceal or internalise what is worrying them.
Masking or camouflaging: what do they mean?
When a girl ‘masks’ or ‘camouflages’ she essentially modifies her behaviour. This might be in an attempt to fit in with her peers, for example copying the behaviour or voice of a classmate, in order to be similar to the group. It may also be her way of hiding her autism or the anxiety she is feeling in order to appear calm on the surface. This means girls can spend a lot of time covering up their emotions, which must be extremely exhausting (and as teachers we certainly know how this feels!)
In fact, girls with autism are often very good at making eye contact and holding conversations, which you don’t typically expect with autism. And unlike boys, their special interest subjects tend to be similar to their ‘neurotypical’ peers, for example horses or boy bands, making it difficult at times to spot autistic traits.
A few tips for including learners with autism:
Every girl (and boy) with autism is different. They often say their brains are wired differently so they may learn in unconventional ways. It is important to remember that what works for one learner might not necessarily work for another.
Statistically, learners with special educational needs are more likely to develop mental health issues. As we know, there are a multitude of pressures on young girls, so openly discussing mental health and managing anxiety is essential.
Girls with autism tend to struggle with self-worth and self-belief. Helping girls become aware of their sensory issues and emotions and how to regulate these helps them understand themselves and others.
4) Talk, talk, talk…
As teachers, we’re pretty good at this one! In order to overcome the lack of knowledge in this area, we need to discuss autism. We need to speak to colleagues and parents/carers, search for and share information, but most importantly we need to talk to our students and learn from them.
Practical activities (expanded from Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs)
REMEMBER: Not every activity works for every student, it’s important to get to know your learners and understand what works best for them.
1) You’re the expert
Ask students to prepare a presentation on their special interest subject. Ask the rest of the class to ask questions. If learners don’t feel comfortable presenting to the class, why not get them to video and edit a short clip? Or run a Facebook Live, you could direct the conversation, but this may be less daunting for those who are anxious as they can join from elsewhere.
2) Name the feeling
Make pairs of cards with 1) photos of people expressing different feelings (according to students’ age and ability and 2) cards with the words that best describe the feelings.
Older students can play this game as ‘pelmanism’.
3) Pelmanism: Create pairs of cards where one card has a picture of a vocabulary item, and the other has the written word. Students place the cards face down on the table and take it in turns trying to find a matching pair by turning over two cards at a time. If players find a match, they keep it and have another go. If they don’t, they turn the cards face down again. Older students can practise homophones or homonyms, or match verbs with their tense forms.
Bonus activity: Tell me a story
Social stories and/or comic strips are a great way to engage learners. They can help children with autism in a number of ways, from teaching them how to behave in certain situations to developing their social skills. Why not get your students to draw or design stories of their own?
Want to find out more about autism and special educational needs? Get your hands on our Inclusive Practices position paper:
- Autism.org.uk.(2020) Autism Support – Leading UK Charity – National Autistic Society [online]. Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk
- Carpenter, B, Happé, F, and Egerton, J. (2019) Girls and Autism: Educational, Family and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge
- Delaney, M. (2016) Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs. 1st ed: Oxford University Press
- Sutherland, R, Hodge, A, Bruck, S, Costley, D, Klieve, H (2017) Parent-reported differences between school-aged girls and boys on the autism spectrum. Volume: 21 issue 6: 785-794.
Leanne Atherton is a further education lecturer with experience of teaching both in the UK and internationally. She qualified in post 16 education at City of Bath College and has ELT experience teaching young learners in Thailand and aboriginal students in Australia. She holds a TEFL qualification, a PCGE PCET and is currently studying for her Masters of Education (Special Educational Needs) in Oxford.
Advanced-level English language instruction focuses on helping adults achieve the language proficiency they need to transition out of their English language lessons onto their educational or career paths, engage with their communities, and advocate successfully for themselves and their families. One of the gifts of teaching at this level is the ability to communicate the adult education principles at the heart of our instructional design.
We can overtly demonstrate respect for learners’ prior knowledge and build upon that knowledge to address essential questions that transcend basic skills. We can provide the tasks and projects that support self-directed and rigorous inquiry alongside the development of language strategies that are critical to learners’ successful language skill development.[i] We can also share evidence of the direct connection between learners’ future goals, 21st-century adult life, and essential language strategies along with an array of global skills (i.e., communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being, and digital literacies.)
Routines and Rigor
Of course, even with all the opportunities and advantages of the advanced-level class, instructors have the universal challenge of finding the time to plan for—and teach—units of instruction with rigorous, relevant, high-interest, skill- and strategy-building lessons. One workaround is to look at task-types and routines that naturally incorporate a number of the language strategies and global skills advanced learners need. Routines that accompany task types help learners be intentional in their use of skills and strategies and, with a few tweaks, a routine can also provide additional rigor.
Consider a lecture and note-taking task. This type of task typically includes a wealth of language strategies, e.g., focusing on the speaker’s opening and closing statements to identify the gist of the lecture, using clues in the oral text to identify key ideas for note-taking, paraphrasing information in notes, summarizing the speaker’s ideas, and using the content of the lecture to address a question or problem. This task process is rigorous in its own right. However, if we add the routine of comparing and clarifying the lecture notes with a classmate through a Turn and Talk, we can increase the rigor of that routine by requiring that learners:
- use academic language during the exchange,
- reach consensus on the most important points in the lecture, and
- cite evidence to support their view,
and now we’ve incorporated opportunities to use English to demonstrate collaboration, clarification, consensus building, and critical thinking skills—real skills for the world outside the classroom.
A research-and-report task is another example that incorporates numerous language strategies, e.g., previewing complex text to determine if it meets the reader’s needs, scanning text for necessary information, note-taking to record sources, outlining or organizing ideas for an oral report, using intonation to help the listener identify important information, etc. Not surprisingly, this task requires critical thinking to select, analyze, and evaluate information. Some routines that would increase learners’ use of other global skills and heighten the rigor of the task include having learners:
- take on roles requiring decision making, team management, and resource management,
- use a checklist as they research to confirm the validity of their sources and build information literacy skills, or
- use a mobile device to record, rehearse, and upload team reports to increase digital skills.
Rigor and Scaffolds
Of course, all classes have learners at different levels of proficiency. Even if the class level is fairly homogeneous, learners experiencing a task or routine for the first time will need support to be successful. The following scaffolds are just some of the ways to support learners as they engage with the rigorous requirements of a task:
- provide graphic organizers with prompts and/or some sections filled in to help learners organize their thinking,
- post charts with academic language stems and frames for use in discussions and writing tasks,
- create checklists with the task instructions for learners to reference as they work,
- reveal the steps of a task in stages rather than all at once, and
- show examples of the task product created in previous classes.
Routines and Novelty
Using a repertoire of routines and task-types can streamline planning and allows advanced learners to regularly cycle through the skills and strategies they need, rather than approaching global skill development as a “one and done” process. When we add rigor to our routines and tasks, we ensure a connection between the academic, civic, and work-place routines and tasks our advanced learners will perform outside the classroom. The rigor in the routines and tasks gives learners a global skills “work out.”
Even with these benefits, some instructors might equate routine with a lack of novelty—knowing that novelty is an important factor in learning.[iii] The trick is to employ tasks and routines to help learners engage with an array of essential questions, complex and high-interest texts and media, and thought-provoking prompts. This juxtaposition of rigorous routines and complex content encourages learners to make novel connections between ideas: the learners and content provide the source of the novelty essential to motivation and retention.[iv]
Advanced level learners have a wide variety of transition goals. When they have the opportunity to demonstrate and refine global skills such as strategic thinking, planning, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, alongside their language skill development, they are more likely to see the connection between their classwork and their future goals. When they engage with rigorous routines and tasks, they are better prepared to apply their global and language skills in the complex world outside their classroom’s walls.
In her webinar “Picture This: Promoting English Language Learners’ Access to Online Language Teaching” on April 1, Jayme will discuss tools to teach your students online and how to incorporate global skills.
- [i] Parrish, B. (2016) LINCS ESL PRO Meeting the Language Needs of Today’s English Language Learner [Issue Brief]
- Washington D.C.: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from: https://lincs.ed.gov/sites/default/files/ELL_Increasing_Rigor_508.pdf
- [ii] Mercer, S., Hockley, N., Stobart, G., and Lorenzo Gales, N. (2020) Global Skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- [iii] Heller, R., & Riley, B. (2019, May 28). What we know (and think we know) about the learning brain: An interview with Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. Retrieved from https://kappanonline.org/learning-brain-neuroscience-tokuhama-espinosa-heller/
- [iv] Ibid.
Jayme Adelson-Goldstein is a teacher educator and curriculum consultant. Her work focuses on supporting adult English language instructors with rigorous and contextualized task-based, problem-based, and/or project-based instruction. She is currently working with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on The Skills That Matter project. Jayme’s publications include The Oxford Picture Dictionary and Step Forward. She also hosts the podcast Oxford Adult ESL Conversations.