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The Complete Professional Development Guide: Books You Need To Read In 2020

man reading bookTeaching during COVID-19 has challenged us to adapt quickly and learn on the go this year! But how much time have you spent on your own professional development, and how prepared do you feel for the start of next term? As the holidays approach there is a sense of relief as we get to have a well-deserved break, but it is also a chance to get ready for the new term, whatever it may bring. To help you prepare for every scenario, we’ve created an essential reading list with English language teachers in mind! Explore the pros and cons and get practical tips for teaching online, prepare to assess your students in new ways, and learn to prioritise your own wellbeing. We’ve got you covered with best-sellers and the latest professional development books and papers written by ELT experts.

 

Our Professional Development Book Of The Year

Teacher Wellbeing book cover

Teachers… have the power in their own hands to make things better and to nurture and enhance their own wellbeing. This is a welcome message at any time, but perhaps most of all now when there is so much uncertainty in the world.

– English Teaching Professional

Teacher Wellbeing

Our book of the year serves as a practical guide to help individual teachers promote and nurture their wellbeing. Discover effective tips and strategies to help you meet your needs, and improve your wellbeing by finding techniques that work for you. You’ll also find tips to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance, and nurture your personal and professional relationships.

 

Three Professional Development Best Sellers

Bestselling professional development book covers

  • Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching: This award-winning book explores key areas of educational and social psychology and considers their relevance to language teaching. Learn learners’ and teachers’ beliefs about how a subject should be learned and taught, relationships with others, the role of emotions in learning, and more…
  • How Languages are Learned 4th edition: Prize-winning How Languages are Learned shares how language learning theory works in the classroom and provides you with practical techniques and activities developed from research. Perfect for new and experienced practising teachers.
  • Teaching Young Language Learners 2nd edition: A clear introduction to teaching young learners. It covers child development, L1 and L2 learning, vocabulary and grammar, and more by combining theory and practice in an accessible way. It draws on up-to-date international research and classroom practice.

 

Support For Teaching Online

  • Mobile Learning: Get clear guidance and essential support for using mobile devices in and outside the language classroom. Full of practical ideas and activities, it emphasizes the power of the mobile device as a tool for language learning.
  • Learning Technology: Learning Technology provides a clear guide to how teachers can introduce learning technology to the classroom. Explore different ways of putting it into practice, including virtual learning environments, social learning platforms, blended learning and the flipped classroom, mobile learning, and adaptive learning.

 

Recommended Assessment Books

  • Language Assessment for Classroom Teachers: This book presents a new approach to developing and using classroom-based language assessments. The approach is based on current theory and practice in the field of language assessment and on an understanding of the assessment needs of teachers. Split into four parts, this book is the ultimate practical guide to classroom-based language assessment, with advice that can be applied in any classroom setting – both real and virtual! A professional development must-read!
  • Focus on Assessment: This book develops your ability to design, implement, and evaluate language assessment in your classroom, helping you relate the latest research and pedagogy to your own teaching context. Explore the multiple roles teachers play in language assessment such as ensuring a positive assessment experience and promoting learner autonomy, and improve your assessment competence with activities that help you to apply assessment theory to your own classroom.

 

Recommended Vocabulary Books

  • How Vocabulary is LearnedHow Vocabulary Is Learned discusses the major issues that relate to the teaching and learning of vocabulary. Written by leading voices in the field of second language acquisition, the book evaluates a wide range of practical activities designed to help boost students’ vocabulary learning, starting with ‘Which words should be learned?’…
  • Focus on Vocabulary Learning: Explore teaching vocabulary to language learners aged 5-18. Discover the considerable challenges of learning the vocabulary of a new language from a range of perspectives, and become equipped to teach with practical solutions. Find a rich variety of useful activities and examples from real classrooms, and ‘spotlight studies’ of important research, that link theory to practice.

 

ELT Position Papers

Our position papers provide expert advice and guidance on the burning issues shaping English Language Teaching today. Download them for free and you’ll also receive exclusive training and resources for your classroom.

ELT Position Paper covers

  • Global Skills:  Creating Empowered 21st Century Learners: Help every learner develop the skills they need for success in a fast-changing modern world! Get expert advice and discover the five global skills clusters that prepare learners for lifelong success and fulfilment.
  • Oxford 3000 and Oxford 5000: The Most Important Words to Learn in English: Interested in expanding your learners’ vocabulary? Discover our core wordlist of all the most important words for learners to know! Deliver a well-founded vocabulary syllabus with confidence, and encourage independent vocabulary learning at home.
  • Inclusive Practices in English Language Teaching: Create an inclusive classroom, and make learning a positive experience for each and every learner. Discover expert advice to help you identify and support students with special educational needs, and pick up practical solutions for building an inclusive classroom environment.

Professional Development On The Go!

Download our free focus papers to access bite-sized insights and practical tips for the ELT classroom! Each paper is easy to use, and immediately useful, covering topics like:

  • Online Teaching
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Mediation
  • Oracy Skills
  • Managing Online Learning
  • And more!

 

Which new teaching skills are you trying this year?

Let us know in the comments below!

 


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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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Promoting Project-Based Learning | Q&A

Project workDuring the recent webinars I presented for OUP on Project-Based Learning, I set out a framework which could be used in ELT.

Project-Based Learning is defined by the Buck Institute for Education (2018) as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

In order for this to be more accessible for English Language Teaching (ELT) we need to set out a framework and be selective to make pedagogic sense.

Generate and stimulate: This has to come from the teacher initially, especially if you are dealing with young learners or teens. It is about knowing your students and knowing what will motivate them in terms of the topics and activities you are going to ask of them. Generate interest by discussing issues that directly affect them, and this will stimulate them further. It’s the teacher’s job to build curiosity and passion in to the project, adding and stirring when necessary. As ideas are generated, areas that need further exploring should become exposed. As a group, decide which problem/area you want to explore.

Define and refine: From this you need to define a driving question – one where the answer cannot be simply ‘Googled’. Each class or group within a class should have a different driving question that is specific to their interests. You may start with defining quite a big question such as ‘What size should the trains be?‘  And refine this down to ‘How can we get as many people on the train as possible?‘. These questions should not be written in ‘educationese’ like ‘What methods could be used to maximise the capacity of the trains?’, but worded by and for the learners.

Designate and Collaborate: At this stage, the project is truly designed, and the goals are set using SMART principles (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). The tasks and activities are designated to the learners who want them or feel they would like the opportunity to do them. There should be a strong sense of collaboration, so that not one student feels like they are doing all the work, or are isolated. At this point it is a good idea to visually display the goals which have been set, who is doing what, and timescales. This is an opportunity to value each and every member of the class.

Compare and Share: It is essential that there is a continuum of input and feedback, and this should come from peers as well as the teacher. Getting groups to compare what they are doing and sharing their ideas will only make all of the projects better. Students get a better idea of their own performance by seeing what others have done and comparing themselves in relation to each other. Giving and taking critical feedback is also an important part of development; using the THINK mnemonic (see diagram above) should set expectations and provide guidelines for peer feedback. Having a ‘growth mindset’ is about learning how to receive and use feedback productively, accepting critiques as suggestions for improvement rather criticisms of failure.

Enhance and Advance: Learners start off using the knowledge and skills that they have, but then develop these further through the tasks or research that they are doing. This is what makes perfect pedagogic sense, where they have created a context that interests them, which in turn has defined the language that they need to complete a task. This integrates language, as well as content and skills development. Essentially they are providing inherently important reasons for using the language. According to Patsy Lightbown, a lot of language is acquired through meaningful language usage. However, many features of language cannot be acquired, so it is our job as English Language teachers to provide them with the language they need to complete the task.

PBL allows us to adapt goals for learners at different proficiency levels, using the content the learners have created as a backdrop provides meaningful language. The focus should also be on developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) such as reasoning, enquiry and discussion, creative thinking, self and peer evaluation, and hypothesizing. Compare these skills to Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) such as remembering information, ordering information, defining objects and checking understanding. Other skills that need to be enhanced are 21st Century skills (for more information click here). These include: Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. 

Review and Revise: Students look back at the whole project and review what they have done, being critical of their own work. Similar to the Compare and Share stage but students need to turn the THINK questioning on to their own work and evaluate and state what they like, and what they would have done differently if they were doing it again. This helps to consolidate learning and assess what learning has taken place.

Produce and present: This is the final product and it should be presented to more than just class peers. It doesn’t have to be a poster, display, or a PPT presentation – with the advancement of technology there are so many other ways to publish the work that your students have done, from infographics to using Minecraft! Some of the other suggestions that came out through the webinar include: leaflets, videos, photo stories, podcasts, school magazines, comics, e-books, school websites, blogs, Prezzi presentations, puzzles, links with QR codes, video tutorials, Padlet, and using Google Forms and documents.

The PBL Framework is presented in a circle, as more often than not, more interest and motivation is generated during the presentation stage, stimulating more areas of inquiry and leaving questions that still need exploring. Perhaps the presentation is from another group of learners which generates and stimulates conversation with your group of learners.

The framework is only complete when we add the student to the centre, making sure that they are at the heart of the project. It is their project, rather than the teacher’s, and that needs to reflect the needs and interests of the learners.

As teachers, we need to coordinate and manage the whole process at every stage. It’s not about giving it to the learner and walking away until a final product is handed in. It’s a lot more work for us! We have to manage and micro-manage each section, stage, and learner to make sure they are all benefitting from PBL.

Lastly and most importantly, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are language teachers and we need to provide language input, so at each stage of the framework, there should be time allocated to language input. We need to provide the learners with the language they need in order to carry out the tasks, do the research, present their findings. That means a lot of different structures will be needed – we  can’t expect them to know it all already. There are a lot of opportunities to develop the different skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing) while on the PBL path. These all need to feature somewhere in your lesson plans and making sure that each learner is not neglecting development of any of the skills.

Qs: Can PBL be used in the language class for adults? Is it difficult for primary students? Does PBL make sense in evening schools as well where you meet 1 1/2 hour each week for 12 times?

A: There were a lot of questions on whether PBL is suitable for different ages and levels and teaching situations. The PBL framework could, and should, be used as that – a ‘framework’ – where you adapt the content and language according to your learners, their age, stage of development, interests, language competency and number of hours you have available. There is no time scale because you can adapt it to suit the time you have available, choosing which sections of the framework to focus on if you need to.

Qs: I’ve often had students who can produce understandable but incorrect language. How much correction is really meaningful for projects? Often we need really disciplined students to complete tasks in English. How can you make them speak only English? You mentioned having language input between each stage; would this be topic related or functional language for completing the projects (collaborative phrases etc)?

A: A lot of comments came up about language and how your students didn’t have enough language to do PBL. This is where you need to identify what language they will need to do a specific task, not just the content language but functional language too, and provide some input on that, like you would in a normal language lesson. At each stage of the framework they will need different functional language, as well as different content language. Remember the ‘Enhance and Advance’ stage/element is to start with what they know and can build upon, both in terms of content and language. Providing language input is a key to a successful PBL environment. When teaching in monolingual situations, you need to create a positive learning environment where the students want to speak in English (as you would in your normal lessons). I usually nominate one student in each group (a different student each time, and not necessarily the strongest) to be the ‘English Captain’, giving them the responsibility to make sure as much English is used as possible.

Q: How do you get ideas for topics?  Not all students are interested in one topic, how can we manage that? What happens if several students want to tackle the same aspect of a question? Should I have to decide with my pupils what content is?

A: Karen suggested that maybe the teacher could give a choice of projects, and students vote to choose collaboratively. One of the main objectives of PBL is to encourage collaboration, and it starts with the choice of topic. To get inspiration about some of the topics to use have a look at some of the links listed below. Defining a point of inquiry is just the start, as this soon gets refined to something more specific. If there are several students who wish to explore the same area, that is fine, it will make the ‘Compare and Share’ stage more generative and it will raise the overall level of the projects considerably. Like with all language lessons you will want to set the students home learning tasks (I’ve stopped using the term ‘homework’ as I don’t want them to get the right answers just for me to mark, but because they are learning).

At the end of the session I shared that my life philosophy is based on MMM, which is a more learner-centred, child friendly view of how language is acquired used by University of Nottingham ITE team.

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

This also supports the pedagogic reasoning behind PBL, where the learners are ‘Meeting’ the topic/content/language/ driving question, ‘Manipulating’ it as they research and develop their ideas, and by doing a presentation they are ‘Making’ it their own; they are taking ownership of the topic/content and language so that it belongs to them.

So now that you have MET PBL, it is up to you to decide if you want to MANIPULATE the ideas suggested to your individual teaching situation. If you do that, then you will certainly have a feeling of OWNING PBL…having MADE it your own. And this is exactly the sensation you want to create in your lessons, so that your learners leave with a sense of owning the project, owning the content, owning the skills, and owning the language.


Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


References:

Brewster, Ellis and Girard. (1993). The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Penguin.

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.

Lightbown, P. (2014). Focus on Content-Based Language Teaching. Oxford: OUP.

BIE PBL YouTube Video Project Based Learning: Explained
https://oxelt.gl/2Ml9mUl

What is project-based learning? 15 PBL ideas fit for your classroom
by Lucie Renard — Jun 22, 2017
https://www.bookwidgets.com/blog/2017/06/what-is-project-based-learning-15-pbl-ideas-fit-for-your-classroom

25 Creative Ways to Incorporate More Project Based Learning in the Classroom
By Terri Eichholz April 18, 2016
http://www.fusionyearbooks.com/blog/project-based-learning/

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.
Accessed 10/5/18


Other interesting YouTube videos and Blogs you may find useful:

How to Design Project-Based Learning Activities EUN Academy: https://youtu.be/_3yAODXnAsg

http://digitaldivideandconquer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/project-based-learning-in-your-classroom.html?m=1

https://hqpbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/FrameworkforHQPBL.pdf

MMM : How many TLAs do we really need? Is there room for one more?
By Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa
https://jmhdr.wordpress.com/

There are SO MANY resources and inspiration on Pinterest which gives you links to blogs and websites.


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Promoting Project-Based Learning

PrProject-Based Learningoject-Based Learning has always had a significant place in the English Language classroom. Teachers soon realise that the topic of language and grammar is not the most engaging, especially for younger learners and teenagers. Even for adults, there is rarely an occasion to discuss the use of the present perfect or passive forms in natural conversation. Projects, therefore, help provide a topic and situation to consolidate language and provide further practice of specific tenses and/or lexis.

Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing students’ reactions when they realise that the piece of artwork and/or writing they have been working on is part of a larger picture, to create a display for a wider audience.  They develop a sense of pride and achievement knowing that their work is being viewed by parents, carers, teachers, students, and other interested parties. Some of the most ambitious projects I coordinated as the Director of Studies at International House Porto were whole school projects where each student, from every class regardless of age or level, was given the same rubric or task.

This inter-generational, cross-level endeavour meant that differentiation in what was produced was by outcome, allowing each individual to work according to their own abilities. This is preferable (and easier to coordinate) to setting a different task for each age group and level. The underlying principle of Project-Based learning is that learners can work to their own strengths, and at the same time the spectacular displays can create a wonderful sense of community within the school, often with families coming to visit the school to see the final exhibition.  The project, though, is driven by the teacher or institute and the work produce is ultimately for display purposes.

Project-Based Learning (PBL), however, is much more than producing wall displays and completing projects set by the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to instigate the project, but then to let the learners navigate and steer it. The driving force should come from the students, as they find a way to tackle a real-life problem, or conduct some inquiry research into areas that have an impact on their lives. PBL is about the process rather than the final product (which could still be a wall display, if appropriate), and developing the skill-sets such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which are needed for life and work in the modern world (click here for more information on 21st century skills).

PBL is more akin to Content-Based Learning (CBL) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated  Learning) in that the pedagogic principles focus on encouraging learners to expand their cross-curriculum knowledge through challenging experiences, developing technological skills, contextualising communication skills, all by engaging with authentic and meaningful projects.

Here are 7 points to consider when creating an effective PBL program:

  • Identify a challenging problem or a question which must be researched (not just Googled!) in order to expand knowledge and understanding of the area
  • Feature real-world contexts which are both stimulating and interesting, and which will ultimately have an impact on the lives of the learners
  • Engage the learner in associated cognitive processing as they sustain a level of inquiry
  • Collaborating and communicating within the classroom community and beyond in order to set themselves tasks, delegate, and carry out research.
  • Develop appropriate language awareness and language skills
  • Self-reflection and evaluation, questioning what has been achieved and how it could move forward

And finally

  • Produce a public product to present, display or exhibit to interested parties beyond the classroom.

Project-Based Learning is well-suited to mainstream schools and education systems, and there has been a lot of research to prove that it is the way forward. But how well does it fit into the English language classroom? In my webinar I explore further what is involved in Project-Based Learning and how you could use it in the English Language classroom. I set out a basic framework which should be adaptable depending on individual teaching situations. We shall also have an opportunity to share ideas, make suggestions and inspire each other to try out different kinds of PBL.

 


References:

Buck Institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project-based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.


Jane-Maria Harding da RosaJane Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


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How tablet devices can help with mixed ability classes

Indian woman a tablet PCShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, considers how tablets and apps can help you encourage the less confident students in your class.

As a teacher trainer, I’ve often been asked how to deal with mixed ability classes. The asking teacher is generally of the opinion that mixed ability is something unusual. To me, it’s always seemed the norm, perhaps best summed up by this near twenty-year old quote.

We do not teach a group but (up to) thirty separate people. Because of this the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and the idea of teaching a unitary lesson – that seems odd.”
Rinvolucri 1986, quoted in Podromou: Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed ability classes bring with them a whole manner of challenges for teachers to overcome. Students who perceive themselves as weak are often the ones that go unnoticed, the ones that are too shy to ask, the ones that don’t ask for the listening exercise to be played again and the ones who feel the pace of the lesson is too fast for them. Of course, should a teacher try and slow it down then those who are more confident complain the pace is too slow. Teachers have always been creative in finding ways to overcome the mixed ability issue. Be it through adjustment of course materials by subtle adaptations and grading or imaginative regroupings during exercises.

If, like me, you spend a large amount of your time reading about and using tablets in education, you’re bound to have run across the idea that tablets are the saviour to all things mixed ability. This, of course, is not true. However, perhaps tablets do offer some genuine alternatives for a teacher and their class. While we’re still a long way from most schools having class sets of devices, over the last couple of years we have seen a slow move towards tablet-based course materials. While some view this negatively, there are immediate advantages for the mixed ability class. Take for example, a listening lesson. Typically, such a lesson is more akin to a listening test.

The teacher establishes context, does a variety of pre-listening exercises and then presses play. Playing a few times but generally working with the class as a whole. Here’s where the mixed ability student falls behind: not getting all the answers and not asking for it to be played again. A tablet-based coursebook and set of headphones are a step towards overcoming this. Since every student has a copy of the listening, control can be handed over to them and they can listen as much as they like (and no one will know how much they needed to listen).

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves.

Staying on the topic of listening, adding audio to reading texts is another way to help some students. In a class you’ll have students who enjoy reading, some who enjoy listening and some who have difficulty with one or both. A tablet-based coursebook gives them the chance to do both, giving the students a choice they wouldn’t necessarily have. Having the choice makes such a task more amenable to a mixed ability class.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read at the same time.

A tablet-based coursebook also gives every student a voice. Not literally, of course, but a voice when it comes to working with, for example, pronunciation. As a digital book can do more than simply have the printed word, the students at appropriate times can record themselves and listen to their own pronunciation when compared to a model. In a large class, it is difficult for a teacher to be able to hear and react to everyone. Recording also builds the student’s confidence as it acts as rehearsal time, so if they are then asked to say something in front of the class they feel more able to speak.

As you can see in this example, from English File pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

As you can see in this example from English File Pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

All these tools allow for self-pacing. The ability to work at one’s own pace is a key element of differentiated learning. However to be able to measure and then tailor learning, the teacher needs to be able to get feedback on how a student is doing. A tablet combined with cloud storage can add a digital equivalent to material adaptation; for example, a teacher can use a word processor to create individualised questions for a reading comprehension. Saving a copy of the questions for each student to access them, do the text and re-save via a cloud link on their tablet.

There are a number of apps that can be used on a tablet to achieve this. For example, Socrative, a student response system, is an app that allows a teacher to create exercises, quizzes and games that they can then get each student to do on their device. As they do it, Socrative gives feedback on each student and how they are doing. It provides the digital equivalent of ‘Do you understand?’. However, unlike when asking the question to the whole class, feedback is telling you exactly how each student is doing. Or to put it another way, the shy struggling student is not put on the spot in front of everyone. In a similar vein, an app such as Nearpod allows a teacher to create presentations that cater for a mixed ability classroom, creating lessons that include listening, video and presentations. The presentation is sent to the students’ device and while they are working the teacher can get instant feedback on how the student is doing.

Once a teacher has this feedback, they know who needs what help and where. They perhaps then can use a tablet’s screen recording ability to produce personalised instruction.

By this point you might be thinking that using the tablet in this way is turning the classroom from a place of communication into one where the students sit silently staring at tablet screens. However, that is assuming I am advocating these things are done for the whole lesson, which is not the case. In the listening, the individualised listening is a small portion of a larger lesson. With perhaps the pre- and post-listening tasks taking place as they usually would. Using the student response app is only done selectively, perhaps taking up only a few minutes of lesson time. Furthermore, such assumptions overlook a third way tablets can help address mixed ability: project work.

Project-based learning (PBL) is coming back into fashion as a result of what a tablet and its apps can do.

In most books on the subject of projects you’ll find reference to mixed ability:

…they allow learners with different levels of competence to co-operate on an equal basis in the completion of the tasks the project requires. This goes some way to solving the problems of mixed-ability classes.”
Projects with young learners: Phillips, Burwood and Dunford, p7.

Project work leads to personalisation – another factor known to help confidence in mixed ability classes. All tablets can record sound, take pictures, and record video, giving the students tools that were previously difficult to get either in or out of the classroom. Collaborative projects involving things such as podcasting, film making, and digital stories need more than language skills to be successful. They involve good direction, a steady hand with the camera and an eye for design, so those that lack confidence in language can gain it by bringing those skills to the project.

An article in the Times educational supplement lists three categories of differentiation to help deal with mixed ability:

  • differentiation by task, which involves setting different tasks for pupils of different abilities
  • differentiation by support, which means giving more help to certain pupils within the group
  • differentiation by outcome, which involves setting open-ended tasks and allowing pupil response at different levels.

While teachers have been finding ways to do these things in the language classroom for years, using tablets can perhaps do this to levels previously never considered. Used effectively, and at the right moments in a lesson, they can help overcome what many teachers see as the difficulty of teaching mixed ability students.