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Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction

TabletsWith over 30 years of experience as a teacher and teacher trainer, Veríssimo Toste looks at how the role of a teacher is changing, ahead of his webinar on using Messages, Discussions and Chats to increase student interaction.

Today’s students are not limited to learning English in the classroom only. Through the use of technology, learning English has become 24/7 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this environment, what is the teacher’s role in helping their students learn? More importantly, how can technology help teachers to help their students learn better? Using messages, discussions, and chats as an integral part of their classes, is one way. Through the use of these simple features, teachers can address questions of mixed ability, customised learning and teaching, personalisation, as well as simply being able to increase contact time with the language, beyond the classroom.

Using “Messages” provides teachers with a simple means to contact their students, as well as for students to be in contact with their teacher. In this way, teachers can follow up in individual needs, without taking up valuable class time. Students can ask questions or raise doubts without the pressure of time and classmates that can be a part of the lesson. In using “Messages” teachers and students can more easily focus on their communication, as these appear within the learning management system (LMS) and so are not confused with general, personal e-mails.

“Discussions” gives teachers and students a forum in which they can continue discussing a specific topic raised in class. Students can exchange their opinions with each other over a period of time. They can participate when it is more convenient to them. They have time to consider their responses. Discussions can range from topics raised in class, to language points based on specific grammar or vocabulary, or how to prepare for a test. The options are limitless. The key is that through the use of discussions online, students can increase their contact time with English.

Whereas discussions can take place over a specific period of time, with students participating at their convenience, chats are an opportunity for the teacher to get everyone together at the same time, although not necessarily in the same place. Seeing that the class had difficulty with a specific topic or language point, the teacher can set up a chat in which the students participate online. Students have an opportunity to follow up on the topic on their own, thus preparing before the actual chat takes place.

By basing the use of messages, discussions, and chats on work done in the classroom, the teacher can provide students with a platform to expand their learning. To find out more about practical classroom activities to achieve this, join me on the 6th or 8th of October 2015 for my webinar, “Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction”.

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Classroom Management and Using Smart Devices

Can Smart Devices really be used for learning? Thomas Healy, co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition, shares his ideas ahead of his webinar on 9 and 11 December on the subject. 

I’ve always been intrigued by the lines in the David Bowie song, Cat People (Putting out Fire), where he sings that he’s “been putting out fire. With gasoline.” In a sense, this is what I attempted to do when I first started using smart devices and social media extensively in class, as a response to my frustration with students’ attempts to text and play with their phones in class.  Rather than banning them and reprimanding students, I decided to use the devices whenever it made sense. Since all of my students had them, I used smart technology to turn every classroom into a T.E.C. (Technology Enhanced Classroom).

In order to evaluate the effect of the devices on teaching and learning, I used the following graphic organizer.

Figure 1. Evaluation Graphic Organized

Figure 1. Evaluation Graphic Organized

  1. Dealing with distraction.

First of all, I considered my own role and behavior in class.  I used to be extremely frustrated when students started texting class. Now, for the most part, I ignore this behavior.  I don’t let it distract me. Also, I know from my own texting behavior during meetings and conferences, that it is quite possible (especially for this generation) to do more than two things at the same time. I intervene when the behavior clearly inhibits the student’s individual learning or when an individual student tries to distract other students in the class with something that they are doing with their smart device (like looking at pictures of puppies).

Students also know that at any time I can ask them to take a photo of their work and to upload it to Learning Management System (see fig. 2). We use Facebook groups for this. I can ask them to message the image to me privately or to post to the group for peer review. I have found that this is a very effective way of keeping students on task.

Figure 2. A paraphrasing activity which a student posted to Facebook for peer review.

Figure 2. A paraphrasing activity which a student posted to Facebook for peer review.

  1. Time management

One of my priorities is helping learners develop their presenting skills. This is a very time-consuming process, as in addition to the presentations themselves, we have to give each student feedback. Rather than fiddling with cameras, I have every student record their own presentation with their phone. We improvise camera stands (see fig. 3).

Figure 3. Improvised camera stand.

Figure 3. Improvised camera stand.

 

We also save time by having students upload their presentation slides to the Facebook group before class, rather than fussing with USB drives and the class computer. A great timesaver is doing the feedback outside of class entirely. Students upload their presentations to the Facebook group. We discuss the evaluation criteria in class but use the comments feature of Facebook for the actual feedback, which is done outside of regular class time (see fig. 4)

 

Figure 4. Posting a recording of a presentation and using the comments function for feedback.

Figure 4. Posting a recording of a presentation and using the comments function for feedback.

  1. Classroom procedure: keeping a record.

Pop up grammar refers to grammar points which arise in class and but are not part of the lesson plan (see fig 5.). I used to be quite frustrated that students would sit and listen to me explain a grammar point, but not take any notes.

Figure 5. A pop-up grammar lesson written on the board.

Figure 5. A pop-up grammar lesson written on the board.

 

Now, I ask a student (and as a course progresses, I don’t even have to ask) to take a photo of what I learned on the board and upload it to our Facebook group (see fig. 6).

Figure 6. The pop-up grammar lesson posted by a student to our class Facebook group.

Figure 6. The pop-up grammar lesson posted by a student to our class Facebook group.

  1. Action plan

Using the graphic organizer above (figure 1), I have tried to measure the impact of using smart devices and social media on how I teach. While the potential for students to get distracted (by Candy Crush or any other of the infinite things they can do) definitely exists, I have found that by using the extensive features of social media platforms and the smart devices themselves, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The key is to make the technology a central part of the process, rather than just a fun, occasional thing to do from time to time. Doing so reinforces the notion that the technology is a powerful learning tool, rather than a plaything.

Take part in Thomas Healy’s live webinar – “Classroom Management and Smart Devices” – to discuss how technology can become a powerful learning tool in your classroom. Register today!


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How to bluff your way through the changes affecting English language teaching!

guide to changes in ESLAndrew Dilger and Sophie Rogers, former English language teachers, are part of the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press. In this tongue-in-cheek post, they consider some of the issues that any self-respecting ‘bluffer’ should be looking at over the long summer break.

English language teaching is changing

How many times have we heard that? This time, however, it really feels like it. With the increasing adoption of digital technologies including the use of tablets and smartphones in many schools; the emphasis on differentiating the learning experience for every student; a mass of edicts and policies from education ministries, school boards and  bandwagons, the average English language teacher – already exhausted and overstretched – could be forgiven for thinking it’s time to hang up their interactive whiteboard pen.

… and we’re not equipped to deal with it (especially in summer)

The thing is, it’s summer! One of the very few times in the calendar year when we can actually stop thinking about our students and start thinking about ourselves! Given the number of blockbuster movies to see, barbecues to go to, new recipes to try out on unsuspecting husbands/wives/partners/families (who we also need to get reacquainted with, by the way, after endless evenings of lesson planning and marking), how many of us really have the time to use the summer break to ‘skill up’?

… so here’s how to bluff it!

For this reason, here’s a bluffer’s guide for how to deal with the seismic changes affecting ELT. After all, the dream will be over in September and then it’s back to the chalk-face – or given the extent to which everything has gone digital – maybe that should be the ‘silicon-face’!

CAUTION: If your teaching is already ‘blended’, your classroom ‘flipped’ and you know your BYOD from your BYOT, then this blog post isn’t for you. For the rest of you, read on …

1) Get to grips with the terminology

Part of the problem is the terminology – we can’t bluff an issue until we know just what all the educators are actually talking about. So here are a few useful definitions to get you started:

  • Blended learning (also known as hybrid learning) – Situation in which a face-to-face classroom component is complemented and enhanced with learning technologies. For example, it could involve teachers and students communicating and interacting online as well as in class.
  • BYOD (Bring your own device; also known as BYOT: Bring your own technology) – Policy which allows students to bring their own mobile devices (tablet and/or smartphone) to school and use them in lessons.
  • Flipped classroom (also known as reversed teaching) – Situation in which students are able to watch videos of teacher-delivered presentations or lectures in their own time. This frees up more face-to-face time for interaction, discussion, collaboration, tasks, etc.
  • LMS (Learning management system) – System for managing learning and educational records or software for distributing online or blended courses with features for online collaboration
  • VLE (Virtual learning environment) – Online space where teachers and students can interact, share work, and organize online materials. VLEs are usually managed at the level of the educational institute.

Of course, the best way to keep on top of all these terms is to put up a poster-sized glossary in your teacher’s room. That way, everyone can add to it and everyone benefits.

2) Rely on experience

The good news for bluffers everywhere is that, as much as ELT is changing, the way we handle the change remains the same. We rely on our experience and wealth of teaching techniques to get us through. ‘Change management’ consists of simply adapting what we’re already doing anyway and if you don’t yet believe it, here’s a quote from someone who knew a thing or two to back it up:

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

3) Get a book

With the sheer amount of published resources available – by both global and local publishers – there’s probably going to be a book about it somewhere. And chances are it’ll be written by someone who’s more immersed in the topic than we are. Some recent examples you might want to flick through include:

  • Bringing online video into the classroom – Jamie Keddie (OUP)
  • Technology Enhanced Language Learning – Goodith White & Aisha Walker (OUP)
  • Thinking in the EFL class – Tessa Woodward (Helbling)
  • Adaptive learning – Philip Kerr (theround – free!)

4) Go online

For many teachers, the internet is the equivalent of the days when we used to walk into the teacher’s room and shout out: ‘What exactly does student-centred mean?’ Or, ‘I’ve got a lesson in ten minutes with a class I’ve never taught before. Help!’ If you’re looking for shortcuts, then the following sites contain enough classroom-ready ideas and professional insights to put you right at the cutting edge of what’s hot in the ELT methodology:

5) Ask a colleague

It’s all about shaping learning together. The trick is to make sure at least one colleague we’re shaping it with is a bit more up-to-date than we are. This way, they can bring us with them into the 21st-century. If you’re looking to bluff it on an institutional scale, try setting up a ‘buddy system’ or ‘chat group’ to discuss some of the latest trends and how you can deal with them. Meet once a month/term and each take a topic – define it, summarize the implications and pool ideas for how you can bring it into the classroom. You could even put together a regular e-newsletter on the findings. Suggestions for some of the ‘buzzier’ trends affecting ELT for your first few chat groups are:

  • Mobile learning (using mobile technology such as tablet computers and smartphones; also known as ‘m-learning’ or ‘mLearning’)
  • Special educational needs provision (e.g. helping learners with ADHD, dyslexia, ASD, SEBDs, etc.)
  • Assessment literacy (understanding how all aspects of testing and assessment impact on the learning process)
  • 21st-Century skills (including the so-called ‘Four Cs’: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity)
  • Multilingualism (how communicating in more than one language affects the learning process – if you’re feeling brave, you could also tackle ‘plurilingualism’!)

So there you go. Five easy techniques for staying ‘ahead of the curve’ and bluffing your way through the changes affecting English language teaching. Now we can get back to enjoying our well-earned summer break and working on that tan. Roll on September!


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eFeedback: ICT tools I use to give my students high-quality feedback

Using Evernote on an iPhone

Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media via Flickr.

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at four online tools that have helped him deliver high-quality feedback to his students.

Upon introducing tablets into my classroom, the biggest gains I have received have been in assessment and feedback. In my experience, ICT tools facilitate the process of giving timely, relevant and effective feedback to my students. Brown & Bull (1997) argued that feedback is:

… most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and encouraging, and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student’s grasp.”

Black & William (1999) wrote that:

… improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation ​and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;
  • the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to ​improve.”

I use a variety of ICT tools in my classroom, all of which the students can access from their tablets or mobile devices. I will introduce the four main tools I use and explain ways in which they have facilitated assessment and, more importantly, giving feedback in my classroom.

1. Socrative

Socrative is an immediate student-response system, where students access the teacher’s ‘room’ using the ‘room number’ and the teacher can push out multiple choice questions, true/false questions, or short-answer questions. The teacher can also assign full quizzes and exit tickets. I have found that when using Socrative, projecting my screen to the students makes it even more beneficial, as they can see the statistics and class responses that are shown on my screen. For example, when asking a short answer question, students can see all responses being submitted, which I then use as a basis for an evaluation exercise: students look at all submitted responses and vote on the best ones, whilst giving reasons why.

This is a very useful literacy-building exercise and I use it to show model answers and what makes a well-structured written response. This process enables me to give immediate feedback to the students, and actively involves them in the process.

My favorite feature of Socrative is definitely the ‘Exit Tickets’ though, as that gives me an immediate pulse-check of the class’s learning, which I can then immediately use to adjust my teaching for the next lesson.

2. Edmodo’s ‘Quiz’ feature

Edmodo is a class learning management system (LMS) that is designed for schools but still looks a lot like Facebook (which engages students more due to its familiarity). I have often created quizzes and polls on Edmodo. When using the ‘Quiz’ feature with my students, Edmodo allows you to show them the answer key once they have submitted their responses. Students also immediately get their score on the quiz. This automatically gives the students timely and relevant feedback, as the assessment has only just been concluded and is still fresh in their minds. I also project the statistics Edmodo compiles for me in front of the class, and we discuss those statistics to highlight strengths and areas for improvement.

3. Google forms (& Flubaroo)

I wrote before about how I use Google Forms in my classroom. I often use the “Flubaroo” script whenever I create a quiz or test using Google Forms. Flubaroo automatically grades the quiz once the students submit their responses, and can also email them their score, a copy of their responses, and the answer key. I then project the spreadsheet of the student responses in front of the class and we discuss the most well-constructed answers. This is another example of how an ICT tool such as Google Forms has enabled me to deliver timely and immediate feedback on my students’ assessments.

4. Evernote shared notebooks

I published a blog post before about how I use Evernote in my classroom. As I have a ‘Premium’ account with Evernote, I can create notebooks for my students that we can all edit and contribute to, even if the students only have a ‘Free’ account. I have benefited immensely from this feature, as I created a set of notebooks for my history class where the students would do all their work. I would then be able to add voice notes with my verbal feedback or even annotated rubrics/checklists for the assessments.

I have noticed that most of the talk about eLearning and tablets in classrooms revolves around engaging students more with learning and encouraging them to create multiple things. While these are very valid benefits of introducing ICT tools into the classroom, I personally believe the biggest benefit can come from how these ICT tools can facilitate the process of assessing student learning as well as delivering timely and meaningful feedback to the students on their learning.

References:

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1999). Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box, Assessment Reform Group, University of Cambridge, School of Education

Brown, G., Bull, J., & Pendlebury, M. (1997). Assessing student learning in higher education. London: Routledge.


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The value of Virtual Learning Environments for Business English

Business person using computerPete Sharma explores some of the different Virtual Learning Environments suitable for Business English teachers.

A colleague recently asked me: “Which VLE should I use with my Business English students?” This started me thinking that there are, in fact, many ways to support the work that teachers do in the classroom. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of these exciting options.

At one end of the spectrum is using a full-scale Virtual Learning Environment. This is a password-protected area on the internet which is used to store and deliver digital materials such as texts, interactive activities, audio, video and links to websites. A VLE is often called an LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Content Management System), and contains communication tools. For example, a teacher can post a message to a forum for students to answer in their own time (asynchronous communication), or use instant messaging (synchronous communication).

Two well-known VLEs used by universities are Moodle and Blackboard. Such platforms have a large number of features, such as ‘quiz-makers’. Creative teachers can make their own digital materials with authoring software such as Hot Potatoes, and upload these to the platform.

On my last course, I used the website Edmodo, which is free and easy to join. It is easy to use and allows you to communicate with your students between classes, and post links to websites and other teaching materials you wish them to look at. This was perfectly adequate for this particular course and group of students.

It is important to remember that a VLE is empty until you add material. Let’s look at a different option. Many course books have an access code at the back, allowing access to publisher-produced materials on a web-based platform. Students can download audio files, or do online interactive exercises. Tracking tools allow teachers (and training managers!) to see which exercises students have worked on, and how much time they have spent on each one.

There are other options. Some of my colleagues use Dropbox to share materials. Teachers running writing courses sometimes start a class wiki. A wiki is a website containing editable pages, so students can collaborate on a piece of writing.

There is a lot of choice, and it is important to support your course with something which works for you.  Maybe you want to offer your students 24/7 access to their digital materials, or perhaps you want to create material yourself. Whatever you decide, it is impossible for me to imagine a course which is simply ‘done in the classroom’, without being able to provide autonomous learning opportunities outside class, too. And busy Business English students, who often travel, will appreciate this course enrichment more than most.