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4 common teaching challenges and how to solve them with videos that extend learning

Solving four common teaching challenges with videos that extend learningTamara Jones, co-author of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, joins us on the blog today to review her TESOL talk about flipping the classroom using content aligned videos.

I think we can all agree that while teaching is rewarding and most of us love what we do, it can also be challenging.  At least it is for me!  While I might be a Q: author, I am also a classroom teacher, and I know how difficult it can be to not only reach all of my students, but to also accomplish everything that the curriculum dictates. That’s why I love anything that provides a solution to some of the many challenges we instructors face on a given day. Content aligned video can be used to overcome many common class challenges while also helping you extend your students’ learning beyond the four walls of your classroom.

Challenge #1:  There is never enough time.

I remember thinking when I first started teaching, “Wait, so you are telling me that I’m supposed to teach a target structure, provide opportunities for controlled and free practice, offer correction, develop students’ higher order cognitive skills, AND assess progress in a few short hours a week?”  It never feels like there is enough time! Even though we know that students need time to practice the target language in class, it often seems that the time we spend teaching it far outweighs the time students actually spend using it.

One way of overcoming this challenge is to flip the classroom using skills or instructional videos, which present the learning points in easy-to-understand ways.  Students can watch a video at home and then come to class ready with questions about the skill, and, even more importantly, prepared to use it to interact.  With the instructional portion of the lesson completed before class, students will have more time to do meaningful practice and generate authentic language in the classroom.

You may be thinking, “This is a great idea, but what about those students who don’t watch the video at home?”  One of my colleagues ran into this very problem when she flipped her classroom, and she came up with an ingenious solution.  By assigning short quizzes that test the students not only on the content of the video but also on facts that only someone who watched the video would know (like what color the bird in the example was, or which mountain the video referred to), she holds her students accountable for doing the work before class.

Challenge #2:  My students are at different levels.

Even under the best circumstances— for example, a multi-level program that carefully pre-tests students to ensure accurate placement— teachers are faced with a range of abilities in a class.  Not all students will understand new concepts at the same pace, and some students will need more help than others.  If you’ve ever found yourself holding up a lesson to answer the questions of one or two students while the rest of the class yawns and looks out the window, you’re familiar with this problem.

So, how can videos help?  I have found it very useful to assign instructional videos to my struggling students as extra homework.  Videos are extra helpful for weaker learners because, unlike a classroom lecture in which the information is delivered according to the teacher’s pace, videos enable students to rewind and re-watch any parts they don’t understand.  They can also watch the material again and again at spaced intervals, which helps with retention.  This gives students control over the information, and how empowering is that?

Challenge #3:  My students aren’t autonomous learners.

You might find that, although your students memorize information really well, they haven’t necessarily become independent learners.  They still expect the instructor to be the conveyor of all new information while they sit and passively receive it.  While this is a very relaxing view of learning, it’s simply not the way language is acquired.  Students have to assume responsibility for their own linguistic development and seek out learning opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom.

This can be a difficult skill to develop in learners, especially if they went to school in cultures where this kind of autonomy is not typically fostered.  Giving students access to videos that align with the course content is one way of scaffolding this process for them.  With some encouragement, they may choose to watch the videos if they don’t understand a concept completely or if they do poorly on an assessment.  They might choose to watch the videos in preparation for upcoming lessons.  They might watch some of the videos, but not all of them.  All of these decisions help students to become more independent learners, and that benefits their linguistic development.

Challenge #4:  Finding the right video content is a headache.

If you’ve spent hours online searching for the perfect video, you know how difficult it can be to find appropriate material to enrich your class. YouTube contains a plethora of videos to comb through, but finding one that matches the content of your class and is also high-quality, easy-to-understand, and engaging can take hours and hours.

When making decisions about new course adoptions, it’s always a good idea to consider whether the supporting materials will enable you to extend your students learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. Textbooks which are accompanied by videos that align with the course content can benefit your students, your lessons, AND save you time.

That’s why I was really excited when I heard that new, free Skills Videos for every unit of Q: Skills for Success were being added to the student and teacher resources available on iQ Online. These videos, as in the example here, were developed specifically to complement the curriculum of Q: Skills for Success and will be an invaluable resource for teachers and students who use Q: in and out of the classroom. Skills Videos save time. The work’s been done for me.  The only question left is to figure out how I am going to spend the extra free time!

 

Having access to high-quality videos won’t solve all of your teaching problems, but it will go a long way in addressing these four common challenges we all face in our classrooms.  Content aligned videos have been a great resource for me and my students.  Do you use videos in your lessons?  Do you find that they solve any other classroom problems? Please tell us about it in the comments below.

Get a sneak peek at the exciting free resources being made available for Q: Skills for Success from August, including new Skills Videos and a new Extensive Reading program.


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Encouraging ESL learner independence

Man sat at desk smiling while workingLara Storton has seventeen years of experience in ESL, teaching English for Academic Purposes and teacher training, and has recently written the Milestones in English Student’s Book and Teacher’s Book at B1+ level. She joins us today to outline steps towards encouraging language learners to continue their study outside the classroom and how to make use of technology and online resources to promote independent learning.

The student-centered approach is becoming more common as teachers realize the benefits of being a facilitator in the classroom, encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning in collaborative tasks and discussions. Of course, as a teacher you decide what happens in the classroom, but how can you extend learner independence outside it?

Set learning goals

Students come to class with their own individual learning goals. Often their motivation for learning will be goal-oriented: geared towards a specific exam, career or university placement and so getting them to spend time on skills development outside of class – rather than cramming for an exam – can be a challenge. And it can also be difficult for students who do want to develop their independent study skills to decide what to study outside the classroom.

What you want is for your students to become confident in organizing their own learning, studying what they want or need to study in order to achieve their long-term goals so that when they pass that exam or get into university, they can go on working independently and with confidence.

So first of all you need to get them thinking about their own learning goals in more detail. Do some needs analysis in class using questions. For example: Why am I studying English now? What do I hope to achieve in the future by learning English? What are my main strengths? How can I build on them? What are my weaknesses? How can I improve my skills and turn my weaknesses into strengths?

Students can then write down a list of individual learning goals and some suggestions of how to achieve them. Make this an interactive activity to highlight its importance and promote independence from the beginning – get students to discuss their learning goals and make suggestions in pairs or small groups. Take time to review these both as a whole class and individually with each student. This way you can help guide learners towards independent study in a way that requires them to take the initiative.

Get students to think about how to extend their learning in class

Once your students have established their learning goals, you can support them further by making references to independent study during lessons. Get them thinking about how they could extend their learning and build on the skills they have practised in lessons, saying for example, ‘How could you practice this at home?’ ‘Has anyone got any ideas about how you could extend what you’ve learned in this lesson?

At first your students may need some support with thinking of ideas so you could give them suggestions such as, ‘Read a newspaper and find two more examples for each dependent preposition we studied today.’ ‘Read a short text on a topic you are interested in and prepare to summarize it to a partner tomorrow’. ‘Read an article on a subject you’re interested in, underline all the present tenses and consider why the writer has used each one.

Over time these suggestions will give students an awareness of a range of independent study techniques and strategies and increase their confidence and motivation to move towards independence.

Take advantage of technology

In terms of motivation, we are lucky to live in an age where technology offers a wide range of self-study options. Most students will have a smartphone, laptop or tablet and are likely to be very adept at using it! This means that they can access a wealth of online study opportunities.

When online practice first became available, technology and programming was limited so exercises tended to be very short. Often they were gap-fill or choose-the-correct-option type tasks which required little ‘thought’. Of course there is a benefit to these more automatic types of exercise but nowadays online study programmes and resources can offer students so much more in terms of skills development. Features such as high quality images, games, audio, video, writing walls and discussion forums add to learner experience helping them to stay motivated and engaged.

From a teaching perspective, online study programmes also act as a ‘first step’ to guiding your students towards independent study – they can work on achieving their learning goals at their own pace and at a level that they feel comfortable with. They tend to be progressive, so once a student is has mastered the necessary language and skills, they can move on to the next level.

One example is the Oxford Online Skills Program. The programme runs at all CEFR levels and offers students the opportunity to work on either General or Academic English. Students can log on in their own time and choose what they want to study in whatever order they like in order to achieve their learning goals. An advantage is that the study material is generic – each module is based around a specific language focus, skill or topic so it can be used alongside any course and to suit varied interests.

Tapping into those interests is extremely motivating so encourage your students to engage with online material as much as possible not only on official study programmes but also through authentic websites and social media.

Build independent skills online

Once your students start to become motivated to study independently, encourage them to adopt a systematic approach to build their skills. In class, have regular discussions about how students can use technology for independent study, for example by listening to podcasts or online lectures, or by reading articles on their subject or area of special interest.

You could set aside a regular time in class where students discuss how they have studied independently this week and say what they have learned, what they have practiced, what they feel they gained from the study and how they will continue to develop those skills in future.

An online study programme can also help to guide students towards a systematic approach which they can then use with authentic materials. For example, in the Oxford Online Skills Program, modules are set up like mini-lessons giving students the opportunity to raise schema (activate their own knowledge and ideas and relate these to their experiences) by looking at an image or watching a video, and then complete a series of exercises including language, vocabulary or form focus. These build up to a final productive ‘task’, either written or spoken, and finally a ‘reflective’ task prompts students to consider their own learning experience and performance.

A2 Listening Engage

Engage activities activate schma. (Screenshot from Oxford Online Skills Program Academic A2)

This type of structure helps students to get into good independent study habits which they can then apply in the future at home or at college or university with authentic texts on subjects that are interesting to them or important to their course of study or career.

 


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Online Learning Platforms: Helping your students engage

Learning onlineLindsay Warwick offers four ways to persuade students to make use of an online learning platform. Lindsay Warwick is a teacher and trainer at Bell and a materials writer. She is co-author of the forthcoming Milestones in English A2 and B1+ Student’s Books, publishing in January 2016.

Many English coursebooks come with access to an online learning platform full of material to help learners develop their language skills further. These can be particularly beneficial for academic English learners who need to achieve a certain level of English within a limited time period. But I wonder how many students (and teachers) fully exploit these materials.

For me, the greatest benefit of education technology is that it provides learners with the opportunity to extend learning beyond the classroom, work at their own pace and at a level appropriate to them. Online learning platforms allow all of those things as well as provide a tool for students and teachers to keep a record of progress made. Essentially, they allow learners to have more ownership of their learning which helps them learn better. According to Benson (2011), “controlling one’s own learning processes is an essential part of effective learning”.

However, encouraging students to use such a resource is not always easy as some students overlook the value of it. I’d therefore like to suggest four ways to help those students appreciate this value better and encourage them to fully exploit the resource.

Persuade the teacher, persuade the student

I believe that before students can be convinced, their teacher needs to be convinced. Once the teacher sees the benefits, they can encourage students to do the same. One possibility is to explore the platform as a class together. Students can familiarise themselves with the platform, with their own learning goals in mind. As Dudeney and Hockly (2007) say, when using educational technology “Your learners’ needs, likes and learning goals need to be taken into account”. By getting students to critically analyse the platform, the benefits will be more apparent to them. The class can also discuss limitations and how those limitations can be dealt with.

Make connections

Research suggests that better outcomes are achieved when online learning and face-to-face learning happen together (Vega, 2013) and linking the two in some way adds more importance to the online platform. Learners will be better encouraged to do online tasks if they have to bring some kind of feedback on the tasks to class e.g. their view on something said in a recording or two new words they learnt. With speaking tasks, the online material could help students prepare for the actual speaking task done in class, rather than recording it at home and emailing it to the teacher. And students could be asked to peer correct each other’s writing work in class.

Set regular deadlines

Some teachers link online material to the course through assessment, making completion of online tasks compulsory. While this can motivate students to do tasks, it can also result in students leaving all the tasks until the very last minute to satisfy course requirements. This means students neither use the online tasks to develop their skills throughout the year nor use the results of the tasks to help inform future learning. As a result, teachers may want to set regular deadlines on the platform.

Give students choice

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, asking students to make choices about their learning helps them to develop autonomy. “For learners to become more autonomous they must recognize their own preferred ways of learning, and students have to make conscious decisions about what works for them” (Painter, 2004). By giving students the opportunity to choose which material to study and when, they can feel more motivated to do the tasks and learn more about their learning preferences. For some students, however, too much choice can be overwhelming and so a choice of two or three sets of tasks each time may be a good place to start.

To sum up, online learning platforms offer much potential and the above suggestions can help learners to see this potential. There will always be students who choose not to participate but this is also part of being autonomous. There will also always be students who will exploit the material and learn from it with encouragement from the teacher.

Please note that not all titles are available in every country. Please check with your local office about local title availability.

Bibliography and further reading

Benson P, Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning, 2013

Dudeney G & Hockly N, How to teach English with technology, Pearson, 2007

Painter L, Homework, Oxford University Press, 2003

Stanley, G, Language Learning with Technology, Cambridge University Press, 2013