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Inquiry-based Learning: 4 essential principles for the ELT classroom

teenagers laughing and working togetherAllowing students greater agency in their learning can be a liberating experience. Rather than the teacher as expert, inquiry-based learning allows learners to assume the responsibility of becoming experts of the knowledge they are constructing through a process self-discovery and trial and error, while the teacher’s role is to monitor their students’ process of constructing new meaning and step in when they need help.

This is the very core of inquiry-based learning (IBL), a form of learning where students pose their own research questions about a topic and set out on a journey to answer them. The benefits of inquiry-based learning are many, such as:

  • Supporting students to build their own initiative.
  • Encouraging a deeper understanding of the content.
  • Motivating students to form their own connections about what they learn.
  • Students taking more ownership of their learning and a sense of reward not just from a final product, but from the process of knowledge-making itself.
  • Helping students develop the critical thinking and life skills necessary to be competitive in the 21st century, from problem-solving to effective collaboration and communication (Ismael & Elias, 2006).

IBL is often employed in math and science classrooms, which naturally lend themselves to a problem-solving approach.  (Amaral et al. 2002, Marshall & Horton, 2011). However, the framework certainly has potential for other disciplines as well, including English (Chu et al., 2011). Of course, balancing inquiry-based learning with language learning means that teachers must also attend to the language and vocabulary skills students need to be effective inquisitors. Tweaks to the traditional model can make this become a reality.

Below are four key principles that distinguish an inquiry-based approach, and suggestions on how teachers can scaffold them for the English language classroom.

 

1) Students as Researchers

In a typical inquiry-based learning framework, students are introduced to a topic and tasked with developing their own research questions to guide their process of discovery (Pedaste et al., 2015). In an English language setting, one way to model this is to provide a leading question for the students, choosing one that is open-ended and can lead students in more than one direction. Even yes-no questions can provide such ambiguity, for by doing deeper research, students begin to realize that the answer is not always black-and-white.

Take the question, Are you a good decision maker? We can encourage students to ask related questions that encourage more informed responses:

  • How do people solve problems differently?
  • What emotional and biological factors influence people’s decision making?
  • What role does personality play?  

Students can use WebQuests to find relevant articles and videos to look at the question from multiple perspectives. In a more scaffolded setting, instructors can provide articles and videos to discuss as a class, and ask students to draw out the relevant ideas and identify connections. Either way, the goal is to have students revisit the question each time new information is learned so they can elaborate on and refine their answers, and in doing so, slowly become experts on the topic.

 

2) Teachers as Research Assistants

An inquiry-based learning model often flips the roles of the teacher and student. Students become the researchers, and teachers assume the role of the assistant or guide to their learning (Dobber et al., 2017). One way to encourage this is to flip the classroom itself so that instructional lessons are delivered online, and class time is devoted to students applying what they have learned through practice and collaborative activities.

As language teachers, we can direct students to instructional videos on skills they’ll need to understand and respond to the texts they encounter. An instructional video on how to classify information could support a text about different kinds of problem solvers, for example. Videos on relevant grammatical and language structures can also be assigned. Teachers can then use class time not to present the material, but to attend to students’ questions and curiosities.

 

3) Peer-to-Peer Collaboration

Learning from peers and sharing ideas with others is another core principle of inquiry-based learning. Students in an IBL classroom become each other’s soundboards, which gives them an authentic audience from which to draw alternative perspectives from their own and test the validity of their ideas (Ismael & Elias 2006). Students are meant to collaborate throughout the entire process, from their initial response to the question to the final project. To do this, teachers can pose the leading question on an online discussion board and require peers to respond to each other’s ideas. To scaffold, teachers can provide language used to respond to posts, such how to acknowledge someone else’s ideas (I think you’re saying that…) or show agreement or disagreement (I see your point, but I also wonder…).

Collaboration also takes places through the final project. IBL classrooms typically have students complete the cycle with group projects, such as debates, group presentations, newsletters, and discussions. Even if students are working independently on personal essays, teachers can have them conduct peer reviews for further feedback, and to present their findings and insights to the class, thereby providing them with a wider audience than just the teacher.

 

4) Reflecting on Learning

The final principle is asking students to reflect on their learning (Pedaste et al., 2005). This can be achieved by posing the leading question on the discussion board at the end of the cycle, to see how students’ responses have evolved based on what they’ve learned. Language teachers can also encourage reflection through assessment feedback. If giving a test on the language and skills students have studied, they can go a step further by posing questions about the experience:

  • How difficult did you find the test?
  • Why do you think you made mistakes?
  • What can you do to improve your learning?
  • What can your teacher do?

This helps students identify areas for improvement, and it gives teachers guidance in tailoring their instruction in the future.

In the IBL classroom, students are in the driver’s seat, but teachers are not sitting alone in the back. They’re upfront, in the passenger seat, watching students navigate their way and giving direction when they get lost. The teacher knows that the path of inquiry can take multiple routes and that students will need different tools to get to their final destination. With proper scaffolding, teachers can make the voyage for English language learners more successful, and in the process, create a cohort of lifelong inquisitors.

 

For a demonstration of how Q: Skills for Success Third Edition uses IBL to create independent and inquisitive learners, please join my Webinar on the 20th February 2020, where we will be looking at how the series and its resources scaffold the four principles of IBL both in and outside the classroom.

Register for the webinar

 


 

References

  1. Amaral, O., Garrison, L. & Klentschy. M. (2002). Helping English learners increase achievement through inquiry-based science instruction. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(2), 213-239.
  2. Chu, S., Tse, S., Loh, K. & Chow, K. (2011). Collaborative inquiry project-based learning: Effects on reading ability and interests. Library & Information Science Research, 33(3), 236-243.
  3. Dobbler, M., Tanis, M., Zward, R.C., & Oers, B. (2017). Literature review: The role of the teacher in inquiry-based education. Educational Research Review, 22, 194-214.
  4. Ismael, N. & Elias, S. (2006). Inquiry-based learning: A new approach to classroom learning. English Language Journal, 2(1), 13-22.
  5. Marshall, J. & Horton, R. (2011). The Relationship of teacher-facilitated, inquiry-based instruction to student higher-order thinking. School Science and Mathematics, 93-101.
  6. Pedaste, M., Maeots, M., Silman, L. & de Jong, T. (2015). Phrases of inquiry-based learning: Definitions and the inquiry cycle. Educational Research Review, 14, 47-61.

 


 

Colin Ward received his M.A. in TESOL from the University of London as a UK Fulbright Scholar. He is Department Chair and Professor of ESOL at Lone Star College-North Harris in Houston, Texas, USA. He has been teaching ESOL at the community-college level since 2002 and presented at numerous state, national, and international conferences. Colin has authored and co-authored a number of textbooks for Oxford University Press, including Q: Skills for Success Reading and Writing 3.

 


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Task Based Learning: A Dynamo for 21st Century Learning

task based learningNowadays we live in an ever-changing global world in which global skills have become the essential skills of the workplace. Employers currently seek employees who have a positive attitude to life, who are adaptable, self-motivated and who are continuously motivated to grow and learn. In short, it seems that the global marketplace is looking for life-long learners who have a growth mindset. This being the case, it seems fitting to stop and ask ourselves whether our schools and educational systems are currently preparing our children for this complex and ever-changing reality, or if they are simply perpetuating a bygone 19th century educational model that is no longer capable of meeting our modern-day reality and needs. Sir Ken Robinson defends that:

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.” (Robinson, 2010)

It seems that this message is being heard and taken on board, as many educational systems around the world have already begun taking the first steps towards bringing about this kind of radical long-lasting change into their schools and society by implementing UNESCO’s 4 pillars of education[1] or the OECD Pisa-Global Competence framework in their curricula. The OUP ELT expert panel recently defended in the Global skills: Creating Empowered 21st Century Citizens position paper: “Nowadays, teacher’s responsibilities typically cover not only the teaching of specific subjects but also the gradual inclusion of additional skills and competencies.”[2] (2019: p. 10). Thus, we teachers need to implement a 21st century learning framework in our classrooms which introduces a balanced learning approach. An approach that simultaneously promotes and develops the learning of subject specific content along with the 21st century global skills like Critical and Creative thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Intercultural, Citizenship and Digital skills, and finally, Emotional Regulation and Well-being.

Whilst all this makes perfect sense, teachers like you and me often find themselves a little lost when it comes to bridging the gap between theory and practice in our classrooms. Suzie Boss and John Larmer defend that Project Based Learning (PBL)is just the perfect tool to make this shift as:

Through academically rigorous projects, students acquire deep content knowledge while also mastering 21st century success skills: knowing how to think critically, analyse information for reliability, collaborate with diverse colleagues, and solve problems creatively. In the process of engaging with PBL, students learn to ask good questions, be resourceful, manage their time, meet authentic deadlines, and persist through challenges. When well done, PBL fosters self-management and self-directed learning.” (Larmer, 2018, p. 1)

Colleen MacDonell goes a step further and alerts us to the toll that a strictly academic programme can take on Young Learners by mainly focusing on their cognitive development in neglect of other essential components of how learning takes place with young learners, namely,  their innate positive dispositions like their constant curiosity and eagerness to learn. She supports the introduction of PBL in the YL classroom as:

…the project approach to teaching helps young children develop many positive habits of mind and behaviour: persistence in the face of a difficult problem, curiosity about new concepts, motivation to learn, cooperativeness, and even humour. … Early childhood education should include a conscious effort on the part of teachers to create learning environments and activities that allow children to practice and experience these desirable behaviours. (MacDonell, 2007, p. 4)

Want to try the PBL approach with your learners? Here are five absolutely essential characteristics that every good YL project should have.

Stem from a student-directed driving question.

 A meaningful project should always be born from a discussion between all the project stakeholders (the children, teacher, the school librarian etc.) that inevitably taps into the children’s natural curiosity. The teacher’s role is that of a guide or facilitator who helps the children discover what they are curious about and which overall driving question they want to find the answer to. This strong students’ voice is really what creates and drives a project!

 Be based on a meaningful topic that is connected to the real world

 One should never forget that children are not capable of abstract thinking skills. Thus, they will only be motivated to pursue a project that they can understand and immediately relate to in their everyday lives. Whilst this may appear to be obvious enough, it is a core principle which one may feel tempted to neglect in the face of rigorous programmes that supposedly prepare children for (state) exams.

 Be carefully scaffolded for various types of learners

 Carol Read (Read, 2007) reminds that a good YL lesson should be planned to “catch children at being good”. This is also true of an effective project. A good project should be designed so as to bring out and develop children’s natural talents and skills. This being said, it’s important to make sure that each child has been given a clear role within the actual project to guarantee that every child is innately motivated and deeply involved in the project’s execution.

 Be embedded with knowledge and skills

Although a good project is student-driven, it should also lead the children to develop the target knowledge and skills that they need to learn at a particular stage of their educational journey. Thus, a project’s driving should naturally be linked to the target content programme. One should also stress that a meaningful and effective project should be research-based and informed by multiple resources so that children are developing the global skills they will later need in the workplace from a young and tender age.

Conclude with a viable end project

 Bloom’s revised taxonomy alerts us to the importance of developing the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) in the classroom rather than stopping at the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Thus, it is natural that a successful project should come together in an end product which reflects the final result of the students’ learning process. It is important to stress that this final product should be simple and doable as the objective is to motivate children to learn rather than to burden them with an unrealistic end project which is an unnecessary source of stress for all the stakeholders involved.

So, when all is said and done, what exactly is the secret of a good project? Well, like so many things in life, it should follow the KISS approach to learning:

Keep

It

Sweet and

Simple!


Join me in January 2020 for a webinar designed to help you make project-based learning a fun and engaging learning experience. See you then


Vanessa Reis Esteves has been teaching EFL in Portugal for the past 23 years and is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação where she teaches English for Academic purposes and English methodology. She has taught both in private and state schools. She holds a Master’s degree in Anglo American studies and is involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Portugal and Egypt. She presently writes course material for EFL students and has recently written ETpedia: Young Learners with practical ideas on teaching YLs for Pavilion Publishing in the UK. Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, (Pre)Teens as well as Critical Thinking and 21st Century skills.

 


Bibliography

Larmer, S. B. (2018). Project based Teaching, How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences. Novato: ASCD Learn.

MacDonell, C. (2007). Project-Based Inquiry Units for. YoungChildren, First Steps. to Research for Grades Pre-K-2. Worthington: Linworth Books.

Read, C. (2007). 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom, Immediate Ideas and Solutions. Thailand: Macmillan Books for Teachers.

Robinson, K. (2010). Bring on the Educational Revolution. https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_learning_revolution.

[1] For more information, consult: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000109590

[2] This report can be fully downloaded here: https://oxelt.gl/2nIJ32Y


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Global Skills and Digital Literacies | ELTOC 2020

 

Global Skills

You’ve probably heard of 21st-century skills, also known as ‘global skills’. These are the skills, competences and attitudes considered important in our increasingly globalised world. As educators, we are increasingly expected to help our students develop them, whatever subject we may teach. Global skills cover several areas – for example, communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being – and, of course, digital literacies.

Global skills are clearly interconnected, and digital literacies can be seen as a thread that runs through all of them.

Defining digital literacies

What exactly are digital literacies? You’ll notice that I use the term ‘literacies’ in the plural, rather than ‘literacy’ in the singular, although you will come across both terms. This is in keeping with current theoretical views of literacies as a complex plural concept, rather than a single skill or ‘thing’ to be learned (e.g. Lankshear and Knobel, 2011).

If you google the term digital literacies, and you will find many possible definitions. Many define digital literacies as finding and analysing information online, or of knowing how to use computers; others define digital literacies in terms of employability. Although these are all important areas within digital literacies, we prefer a broader definition, as follows:

Digital literacies (are) the individual and social skills needed to effectively interpret, manage, share and create meaning in the growing range of digital communication channels.

Dudeney, Hockly & Pegrum, 2013:2

This view of digital literacies includes the ability to not only use hardware and software safely and appropriately (‘computer’ or ‘IT’ skills), and the ability to find, share and create information (‘information literacy’), but also the ability to deploy a range of social and communication skills in using technologies to create meaning and to communicate with others in socially and contextually-appropriate ways. This definition covers not just skills and knowledge, but also attitudes and social abilities; it conceptualises digital literacies as not just a means to an end but as an integral part of living and communicating in a digitally globalised world.

Digital literacies and English language teaching

Definitions are all very well, but what do digital literacies mean for the English language teacher? Surely our job is to teach language, rather than digital skills? The answer is that it is relatively easy to combine a focus on English language with a focus on digital literacies, within a communicative language teaching approach. We can divide digital literacies into several key areas or domains (communication, information, collaboration, and redesign), and within that, identify more specific digital literacies (Dudeney, Hockly & Pegrum 2018). For example, we can talk about data literacy, mobile literacy, information literacy, and many more. Once we’ve broken down the concept of digital literacies into smaller and more manageable subskills (or literacies), we can then choose to focus on some of themin the English language classroom, alongside work on the language itself. Clearly, we want to focus on those digital literacies that are of most relevance to our students and our teaching context.

Digital literacies activity: memes

Here is one simple example of an activity that can develop our students’ digital literacies in the area of redesign: working with memes in the English language classroom.  An Internet meme is an image, text or video that is shared via the Internet, added to or changed by users, and then shared again. Understanding and creating memes is an example of remix literacy. Remix literacy is the ability to re-purpose or change already-made digital content to create something new. In class, show your learners a few examples of recent or famous image memes and ask them to describe (or show) other image memes that they know about. Put your learners into pairs, and assign each pair a meme. Ask your learners to visit the site to research their assigned meme, and to also create their own version of the meme. Your learners can create their meme on paper, or if they have access to Internet-connected laptops/mobile devices, they can use a meme generator site to create their meme electronically. Regroup your learners and ask them to share what they found out about their meme, and to share their version of it. To round up the activity, ask your learners to vote on which meme they thought was the most interesting, original, political, unusual or funny. The activity provides learners with reading, speaking and writing practice, all within a focus on remix literacy.


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!


Nicky Hockly is the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an award-winning online training and development organisation. She has worked in the field of English Language Teaching since 1987, is an international plenary speaker, and gives workshops and training courses for teachers all over the world. Nicky writes regular columns on technology for teachers in ETP (English Teaching Professional) magazine, and in the ELTJ (English Language Teaching Journal).


References

Dudeney, G., Hockly, N. & Pegrum, M. (2013). Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Dudeney, G., Hockly, N. & Pegrum, M. (2018). Digital Literacies Revisited. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 7, 2, 3-24.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2011). Literacies: Social, cultural and historical perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.

 


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Combining the Four Cs | ELTOC 2020

Here we’ll discuss the role of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration in the English language classroom, and suggest some practical ideas for giving students a challenging new take on these familiar concepts.

Global Skills

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.

OUP’s Position Paper on Global Skills is a concise guide for empowering students inside the classroom – and beyond. It acts as a guide for teachers who would like to help equip their students with strategies for dealing with the challenges and opportunities of twenty-first century life.

From Four Cs to five skills clusters

Global Skills include Communication and Collaboration and Creativity and Critical Thinking as two of the key skills clusters, and these are concepts which will already be familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, in which they were grouped together as Learning Skills and referred to as The Four Cs.

OUP’s Global Skills are made up of five distinct skills clusters. If you would like to know more about the other three skills clusters of Global Skills – which are Intercultural Competence and Citizenship, Emotional Self-Regulation and Wellbeing, and Digital Literacies – see the OUP Position Paper.

Fresh perspectives

The skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking are as important as ever, not only because they can have a positive impact on language proficiency, but also because they can be applied to the challenges of everyday life.

Communication and Collaboration

Why are they grouped together in Global Skills?

Learning to communicate involves being able to negotiate meaning – something which requires interacting with another person or people. And when we collaborate with someone else, both in the classroom and in real-life contexts, there is usually communication involved. The two skills therefore connect, and can very often be dependent on each other.

Pairwork and groupwork

The easiest way to generate conditions for collaboration is to get students to work together in pairs or in small groups. In order to ensure that there is communication as well, students need to share or exchange ideas in some way. Let’s look at a simple example.

Recalling an image

Show students the image below and ask them to pay attention to the small details. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

After about thirty seconds, remove the picture from view and get students into pairs. Thirty seconds is not very long, which means that students will probably have only a partial memory of the poster. Ask them to work together and recall as much as they can. Ask if they can remember:

  • the words on the poster – and the colour of each word
  • the shape of the figure – and what each ‘body part’ consists of

Some students are more observant than others – but the ones who remember the most do not always have the English with which to express all the information. For this reason, it is likely that students will use L1 to negotiate the answers to the prompts as they gather the English words that they need in order to complete their lists.

Communication and collaboration in action

This simple task mirrors real-life situations in which we need the help of someone else in order to piece together information and fill in the gaps with our own knowledge. The transfer of information is ‘communication’. The pair work is ‘collaboration’. Students help each other as they complete the task, while also checking each other, and correcting each other, as appropriate. Communication and collaboration go hand in hand.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

Why are they grouped together?

Creativity is the art of thinking – it is based on inspiration, intuition and subjective expression. Critical thinking is the science of thinking – it is based on reason, analysis, and evidence-informed judgements. As skills, they are complementary aspects of thinking outside the box, whether that involves coming up with something new, or seeing something that others have missed. Again, let’s take a look at a simple example.

Comparing posters

Show students all four of the posters related to diet shown below. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

Now give them the following statements to discuss. Ask them to express their ideas, listen to each other’s views, and then try to reach an agreement, by modifying the statements, if necessary.

  • the posters have nothing in common
  • the posters appeal to emotions, not intellect
  • the posters are intended for children
  • the most effective poster is poster ____
  • the least effective poster is poster ____

Finally, ask them to come up with a new poster of their own, designed to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy diet.

Creativity and Critical Thinking in action

The prompts above do more than check students’ comprehension of the posters; they engage their critical faculties, too. The statements are likely to be divisive, and students might well disagree with each other. Establishing the truth of what they can agree on will require negotiation and compromise, as well as creative recasting of some of the statements. Most interestingly, students will have to consider whether they want to change their initial beliefs in the light of information received from others. That is the kind of critical thinking that can be reached through communicative, collaborative classroom processes.

The final task – the design of a new poster – is an example of a creative task that extends naturally out of the tasks that have preceded it. The task combines language skills and non-language skills, so all students have a chance to make a meaningful contribution. Done collaboratively, it will generate further opportunities for communication, collaboration and critical thinking, too.

Double duty

We don’t need extra lessons to teach global skills, nor do we need to separate language skills from global skills. The activities above demonstrate that the learning tasks of the classroom can be asked to perform double duty: to generate opportunities to practise language and to develop students’ global skills.


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!


Edmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 25 years of classroom experience. Based in Budapest, he has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels. He works with teachers from around the world as a freelance teacher trainer and as a tutor at the University of Oxford’s ELT Summer Seminar. He is the author of ETpedia Teenagers (2018, Pavilion Publishing) and co-author of Mixed-Ability Teaching (2015, Oxford University Press).

 


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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