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7 Steps to Assessing Skills in the Secondary Classroom

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There have been numerous mentions of the importance of focusing on skills, such as building resilience, self-control, empathy, curiosity, love of learning, etc. in the EFL classroom. We are becoming more and more aware of what these are and how to help our students develop in these areas. However, as these skills are all subjective and seem completely intangible, as teachers we tend to refrain from even considering assessing these. After teaching a set of vocabulary or a grammar point, we are naturally used to evaluating improvement through different tests or tasks, but how do we assess the development of skills such as collaboration or self-control?

Why do we need to assess these?

Most education systems still put more emphasis on academic knowledge, assessed through tests by grades, so students might have the impression that this is all they need for their future. We also need to assess a variety of other skills in the EFL classroom to shed light on the importance of these for our students. This can demonstrate how being creative, co-operative or accepting helps students to live a more successful and happier life outside the classroom, beyond learning a language. It is also key to involve all the stakeholders, such as parents and colleagues, in this process. Let them know which skills you have been working on, the ones where your students shine and which ones they might need more support in other classes as well as in the home environment. Careful and on-going assessment of these skills, therefore, becomes equally paramount as assessing language knowledge and application.

The key in this assessment process is engaging the students themselves in helping them realise their own potential so that they can take responsibility for their improvement. Teacher assessment and guidance also plays a vital role in this developmental process. Above all, we need to empower students to be able to set learning goals for themselves, reflect and analyse their own behaviour and draw up action plans that suit their learning preferences. Here are a few tips on how this can be achieved.

How can we assess these skills?

We can help students improve in these areas by using the Assessment For Learning framework that “…is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide: where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.” (Assessment reform group (2002)

 

1. Brainstorm skills used for particular tasks

After setting a collaborative language task, ask students to brainstorm skills they might need for success by imagining the process. For example, a group project where students have to come up with a survey questionnaire, conduct the survey and present their findings through graphs. Students might suggest teamwork, openness towards different ideas, listening to each other, etc. If you can think of other important skills, add these to the list (e.g. creativity in coming up with good questions, ways in which they represent their findings, etc.) Students can assess themselves, or each other, with this check-list at the end of the task, but it could also become a reference list to refer to throughout the process. Make sure there are not more than five skills at this stage, to make self-reflection and peer-assessment manageable.

2. Reflect and Predict.

Ask students to identify their current emotional state, as this might play an important role in their ability to use specific skills. Follow this up with questions to predict their competence in each skill area, on a scale from 1 to 5 (1=not at all…5=very well). Students can use their answers as a quiet self-reflective task or the basis of group discussion.

“How do I feel right now?”

“How well will I be able to work with others? Why?” 

“How patient will I be with others? Why?”

“How creative will I be with ideas?”

Getting students to reflect and predict their use of such skills from time to time gives them more focus and helps them become more self-aware. It is important to encourage students to do this without any judgement, simply as a way to evaluate their current feelings and self-image.

3. Reflective questionnaires

The same questions as above can be used at the end of a task too as a way for students to reflect on how they used the particular skills retrospectively. This can then form the basis of a group discussion in which students share their experiences. Remind students that it is important that they offer their full attention to each other during the discussion without any judgement.

4. Setting weekly personal goals

Once students become acquainted with such self-reflective practice, you can ask them at the beginning of the week to set personal goals for themselves depending on the area they feel needs some improvement. To encourage students to set these goals, it is a good idea to share some of your own personal goals for the week first. For example, you can tell them ‘This week I aim to be more open and curious, rather than having concrete ideas about how things should turn out in my lessons.’ Modelling such behaviour can become the main drive for students to be able to set their own personal goals.

5. Using rubrics.

Design assessment rubrics for the main skills being used for self and peer-assessment. Create these as a whole group task, getting input from the students. This could also serve as an assessment tool for the teacher.

6. Peer-observation and skills assessment

As students are motivated and learn a lot through observing each other, you can set peer-observation and assessment tasks for particular tasks, say role-plays or group discussions. Put students in groups and ask them to agree on who the observer is going to be. It is key that there is a consensus on this. Then give the observer a checklist of the skills in focus, where they can make note of how they see the behaviour of their peers. The observer does not contribute to the group task, only observes the behaviour of their peers. At the end of the group task, the observer tells their peers about the things they noted.

7. End-of-term tutorials

At the end of the term, it is a good idea to have a few minutes individually with students and using the checklist and the questions mentioned in points 1,2 and 3 above to discuss how they see their development in the skills in focus. This shows students the importance of these skills and gives them a sense of security and self-assurance of ‘I matter’. It may be challenging to find the time to do this for most of us, teachers. Allocating two weeks for the tutorials with a specific time-window can give you a manageable time-frame, however. The tutorials can then be conducted either during lesson time while you set some free tasks – say watching a film in English – for students to do and/or a couple of hours in the afternoons after school, for which students sign up in ten-minute chat-slots with the teacher.

 

Are you interested in teaching with a course that uses a skills-based approach? You can find our new title, Oxford Discover Futures, here:

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Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.

Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).


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5 Easy Ways to Nurture Imagination and Creativity in the Classroom

young learner using a puppet in the classroomEnter the world of a young child. What might you discover? Young children squeal with delight at surprises. They love to use their imaginations. They easily become animals, princesses, firefighters, doctors, and more! How can we as English teachers build English language skills while nurturing our young learners’ creativity and imaginations? Let’s explore some classroom strategies and activities that successful teachers of young learners use.

1. Classroom songs and chants

Listen to a classroom of young learners. Songs and chants can be heard throughout the day. Let’s consider using a song for a warm-up activity. What kinds of songs or chants work best with young learners? One of the things I look for in a song or chant is a simple pattern. For example, consider this well-known children’s game song, “Looby Loo.”

Here we go Looby Loo. Here we go Looby Light.

Here we go Looby Loo, all on a Saturday night.

We put our hands in. We put our hands out.

We give our hands a shake, shake, shake,

and turn ourselves about, OH!

In this song, the children hold hands while walking around in a circle. For my Japanese students, the song gets their ears ready to hear the /l/ sound that’s not present in their language. The song is cheerful and uses movement that gets children’s bodies warmed up for class.

After children have learned a song, patterns invite them to add their own ideas. What can we change? We could focus on body parts. Children enjoying thinking of a new body part with each repetition. To guide thinking, you can give a child a bilateral choice: Should we move our legs (move your legs) or our fingers (wiggle your fingers)? After a few repetitions, children may be able to name a body part independently.

Sing the song at the next class but add something new. We could change the way we “go” around the circle. Children choose new verbs, such as jump, hop, march, tiptoe, run, skip, gallop, etc. Make it more interesting by changing your voice, speeding up the song, or slowing it down.

Giving children choices nurtures their creativity and encourages output.

2. Creative movement

As I mentioned with music, young learners love to move. There are so many ways that we can add movement to our classes for children.

TPR (Total Physical Response) invites children to respond to movement commands. Using movement in a song as mentioned above is similar. Students hear the words, watch the movement, and move to the words.

Some movements are easy to do in one place, such as clap your hands, pat your legs, stomp your feet, touch your toes, wave your arms, wiggle your fingers, nod your head, blink your eyes, shake your hair, bend your knees. Some movements can be done around a circle or in an open classroom space, like the ones mentioned in Looby Loo.

Children can use their imaginations to move in so many different ways. They can pretend to be animals, Halloween characters, or their favourite storybook character. Using simple props makes it even more interesting.

3. Puppets and stuffed animals

Engage your children’s imaginations by making puppets or stuffed animals a regular part of your English lessons. Practice in front of a mirror to make your puppet appear more life-like. I just introduced my new hedgehog puppet to my kindergarten class. I invited my students to give him a name. They chose “Harry.” Harry comes to class every week. Your puppets can lead an activity, join in a game, read a book, or be part of a conversation. They are often just what you need for your shy students.

4. Hands-on classroom learning

What else can we bring into our young learner classroom? Use your imagination! Real items can be used in numerous ways. Thinking of unusual ways to use items makes learning fun while nurturing your students’ creative thinking.

For example, beanbags can be used to practice colours and play games, but we can use them for imaginative chants, too. Scarves can be used to toss in the air. Pretend that they are leaves, a flower, or the wings of a butterfly. Asking yourself if there’s another way to do something will lead you to new creative choices.

5. Books

Children’s stories can be used in many ways with young learners. Most children’s books have beautiful illustrations, a perfect tool for teaching new vocabulary. Board books often have some type of interactive features that make reading even more interesting.  

 

Come and discover the magic!

In my webinar, I’ll share strategies and activities that you’ll be able to use immediately in your very young learner classroom. I’ll model ways in which you can enter the world of imagination and develop language. Join me for an active session of songs, chants, creative movement, puppets, scarves, beanbags, children’s stories, and more!

Register for the webinar


Kathleen Kampa specializes in working with young learners. As a PYP (Primary Years Program) teacher, she uses an inquiry-based approach to teaching through which students develop 21st Century skills. Kathleen uses multiple intelligences strategies to help all students find success. She also builds English language skills by creating songs, chants, and movement activities targeted to children’s needs. Kathleen and her husband Charles Vilina are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and the ELTon award-winning course, Oxford Discover, published by Oxford University Press.


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Teaching Beyond the 4Cs in the Secondary Classroom | 21st Century Skills

The 4CsThe development of the 4Cs – the skills of Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration – has been around in education and English language teaching for some time now. This has influenced coursebook design, our everyday teaching, and our general attitude towards teaching and learning. As I was planning tasks for the development of these 4 key skills in my own teaching, I have always felt the need for (and I am sure many of you have had the same experience) a broader layer that encompasses these as well as a number of other skills that are just as important for our fast-paced world, where students need to be empowered to shape their own futures. The challenges I’ve faced recently with my teenage students such as lack of motivation, interest, poor attention span, higher emotional instability, being easily distracted, have led me to look for solutions.

I discovered that natural curiosity, love of learning, self-control, resilience, self-reflection, and humour to name a few are just as important in preparing our students for lifelong success. Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman in their article “The science of practice and self-control” discovered that self-control ‘outdoes’ talent in predicting academic success during adolescence. Since then, a surfeit of longitudinal evidence has affirmed the importance of self-control to achieving everyday goals that conflict with momentary temptations”. According to a number of researchers of positive education, all these skills together with the 4 Cs fall under the development of character strengths and virtues.

With this broader framework in mind, I found it a lot easier to design and select appropriate teaching materials and tasks for my teenage students.

One of my favourite ways of approaching a topic developing the 4Cs and beyond is through questioning.

  1. I give students the main words or ideas of the unit, for example, ‘remember’, “memory”, ‘remind’ and ‘forget’. I then ask them to brainstorm questions using these words and the question’s words ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ in pairs or small groups. They might come up with questions like ‘What do we remember?’, ‘How do we remember?’, ‘Why do we forget?’, and ‘What do we need to do to remember?’
  2. Then I ask them to choose two or three questions that they feel would be interesting to find the answer to.
  3. In the next stage, I re-group them to discuss the answers to the questions of their choice, giving them ideas of where to look for answers if they are stuck. This tends to be the longest most engaging stage of the exercise as it taps into their natural curiosity and their desire to find answers to the questions posed by their peers.
  4. Students then go back to their original groups to collect the answers together. These can be represented on posters that can evolve and expand while working around the specific topic, including all the experiments and discoveries they may personally make along this learning journey. They should make notes of the unanswered questions with an aim to seek answers to these as well.
  5. The posters are displayed and revisited from time to time as further questions or answers start to surface. It’s a good idea at this stage to ask students to read each other’s questions and answers, prompting them to look for interesting ideas or to simply express their opinions.
  6. Towards the end, I try to make students aware of what they’ve learnt, as well as get them to reflect on how they felt, the effort they have put into it, their level of engagement, etc.

If you look back at the tasks set above, students are given several opportunities to build not only their creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaborative skills, but they also develop a love of learning, perseverance, tolerating ambiguity, etc. in an engaging and meaningful way.


Erika Osváth is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. She worked for International House schools in Eastern and Central Europe as a co-ordinator, trainer, and Director of Studies. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed-Ability Teaching.


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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


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Engaging Young Learners Through CLIL

Kids lying in a circle making goggle eyesCharles Vilina, co-author of the new Young Learners series, Oxford Discover, offers some practical tips on making the most of CLIL in the young learner classroom.

As a teacher of young learners, it’s easy for me to see when my students are engaged in the lesson. I see it in their faces, in their posture, and in the way they inquire and respond. The class is almost vibrating with positive energy.

What are the qualities of learning in such a classroom? Here are just a few suggestions:

active, useful, meaningful, productive, experiential, challenging, rewarding, shared

Students who see value and purpose in their learning, who are challenged to think actively and to ask their own questions, are going to be engaged in the lesson. Take those qualities away, and students become bored and disenchanted.

Discovering the World

This brings us to the subject of content-based language education, which many teachers know as CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). In a CLIL lesson, we open the windows of our classrooms and invite our amazing world inside. Students discover the world for themselves, using the tools of language in a meaningful way as they move through the lesson. As a result, language fluency is increased.

For our young learners, a successful CLIL lesson is meaningful, challenging, rewarding, and requires them to think deeply and learn actively.

Eight Points for Success

There are eight points to remember when incorporating CLIL into your young learners’ classroom.

1. Introduce the world through many core subjects

Since our purpose as language teachers is to build fluency, students should be introduced to a wide variety of core subjects (in the areas of social studies, the sciences, the arts, and math) to build strong language skills. Each core subject has its own particular vocabulary, grammar, and approach to learning. Social language (BICS) and academic language (CALP) are used in these CLIL lessons, integrating and strengthening both.

2. Let students lead the way by asking their own questions

When we introduce a subject, students should first have the opportunity to discuss what they know and what they want to know about it. This inquiry-based approach to learning engages students from the start. Students are invited to discuss their prior knowledge and experience of a subject, making them feel that they are active participants in the learning process. When students then go on to wonder, to ask their own questions about the subject, they create a personal interest in finding the answers. This supports strong student engagement.

Questions might include, based on the subject matter:

Why do butterflies have four wings?
Why are there 365 days in a year?
Why are cities often built near rivers or lakes?

The teacher can contribute to this process by wondering, too. As the teacher also has questions, this changes student perception. They begin to look at their teacher as a partner in learning.

3. Present content through both fiction and non-fiction

Everything in our world is enriched when presented through fiction as well as facts. Our young learners need exposure to stories as well as to expository texts, giving them fresh examples of how knowledge can be presented. This builds literacy skills as well as knowledge.

Here is an example of providing both fictional and non-fictional content for students, taken from Oxford Discover. The core subject is natural science, and it poses the big question, Where are we in the universe?

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

In the first reading above, the subject is presented through a fictional poem about a little girl and her imaginary spacecraft. In the second reading, a science article presents information about our solar system. Through both readings, students approach learning in a unique way.

4. Match the content to the students’ language ability

Be sure that the content you present is at a level of vocabulary and grammar that is comprehensible to your students. This means that the majority of the vocabulary and grammar in the readings has already been explicitly taught and learned in previous lessons.

However, every CLIL lesson will introduce additional vocabulary and grammar that are needed to understand the particular subject or topic. This additional vocabulary and grammar are taught explicitly, either before or after students are introduced to them in the readings. As students experience the new words and grammar through the context of the readings, their understanding increases.

5. Present content in an interesting and challenging way

The world is a fascinating place, but material is often presented in a dull way. Find content that triggers a child’s natural spirit of curiosity. There should be a sense of wonder, exploration, and discovery within the words of the readings.

6. Allow students to organize the content in a meaningful way

Once students have discovered information about a subject, they should have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. This can begin with comprehension activities, but it should soon move to higher order thinking tasks.

A successful CLIL lesson often uses graphic organizers such as time lines, Venn diagrams, mind maps, or charts (illustrating cause and effect, chain of events, etc.). Graphic organizers require students to analyze the information and make sense of it.

Here is an example of a graphic organizer used for the reading shown above about our solar system. It is a Venn diagram, asking students to compare and contrast Earth and the planet Venus.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

By challenging students to think more deeply, you create a much more active and motivating learning experience for them.

7. Give students an opportunity to talk about what they have learned

Throughout the CLIL process, students are building literacy skills through intensive reading. However, they need an opportunity to build their listening and speaking skills as well. Many opportunities exist in a CLIL lesson for this. For example, students should be encouraged to create their own questions about the readings. This lets students take control of their own learning, as well as to demonstrate what they know. As students share questions and answers, fluency is improved.

In addition, the graphic organizers described above can be a jumping board for dialogue. Students can work in pairs and complete the graphic organizers together while discussing their choices. Later, student pairs can work with other pairs to discuss what they have learned.

8. Provide a summative project to complete the CLIL lessons

A summative project allows students to take what they have learned and create something original with it. A strong summative project is collaborative (getting students to achieve something together) as well as creative (contributing their own original ideas) and communicative (listening, speaking, reading, and writing through the process). In addition, there should be an opportunity for students to present their projects to the class, building their public speaking skills.

Here is an example of a summative project around the subject of our solar system, taken from Oxford Discover. Students work together in small groups to create a model of our solar system, and then present it to the class.

Extract from Oxford Discover Student's Book 4

Extract from Oxford Discover Student’s Book 4

To conclude, a successful CLIL lesson is a student-centered approach to learning. The teacher facilitates the learning process by moving around the class, ensuring that students are actively involved and using the language tools they need to succeed. It is inquiry-based, encouraging students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers together.

Most importantly, CLIL allows students to use their language skills in a meaningful and productive way, building fluency and confidence as they seek and discover knowledge.

Would you like more practical tips on using CLIL and teaching 21st Century skills to your young learners? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.