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Digital literacy: the missing piece for Adult ESL learners

shutterstock_373670722According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77% of jobs within the next decade will require some degree of technology skills. How can these skills be integrated in to English language programs? Kathy Harris explores the role of digital literacy with adult learners. Dr. Harris teaches in the MA TESOL program at Portland State University and also teaches literacy and low-level adult English Language Acquisition.

Think about the variety of your daily tasks that involve technology. Those tasks might include writing an email to a coworker, paying bills online, finding directions to a location, reading the academic calendar on your child’s school website, checking medical tests results in your eHealth portal, or reading an online manual for a new gadget you bought.  The list is long!

The adult learners in our English language programs need to do these things too. They need to be able to get accurate health information, communicate and collaborate using the Internet for school or work, communicate with their children’s schools, apply for jobs, among many other things. Traditionally, digital literacy has not been considered to be part of literacy in adult English language programs, but that is rapidly changing.

In the 21st century, learning English literacy includes literacy in digital contexts, or digital literacy.  Digital literacy includes the ability to use the Internet and other technologies to

  • Find, evaluate and organize information
  • Create and communicate information
  • Generate useful questions to solve problems
  • Share answers and solutions to problems

As we create classes and programs that meet our students’ needs, digital literacy needs to be included. One effective way to do that is to integrate digital literacy tasks right alongside literacy tasks in our classes, ideally doing the same type of task multiple times in different lessons or units.

For example, in a topic unit on health you might create a simple online form for learners to fill out for each lesson.  It is very easy to create online forms. Here is an example of a very simple online form that I made for a low-level ESL class in a unit on going to the doctor:

amir.png

The form was a follow up to reading the online book called Amir gets sick. Students are learning medical questions and medical vocabulary as well as having face-to-face roleplays with the questions and answers.  Creating the form took less than 5 minutes and was a great way for my students to practice the vocabulary and grammar that we had been learning, while also building digital literacy skills.

Google Forms is one free online survey tool that is easy to use. Here is a list of videos created for teachers to show them how to create and use Google Forms created by Richard Byrne in his blog FreeTech4Teachers.

There are many benefits to integrating digital tasks alongside related lessons.  It uses the same vocabulary and grammar as well as topic, so that only the digital format is new, making for a straight-forward learning situation.  The same type of activity is done multiple times it allows for the development of both task and technology expertise by the teacher and the students as well as the opportunity to work through and get past the inevitable glitches. Most of the activities described here can be done with computers, smartphones, or other digital devices.  If devices are limited, students can work in small groups sharing one device.

There are many digital literacy tasks that easily accompany English language lessons and units, including writing email messages or sending text messages, listening to related podcasts, reading the news online, creating short presentations, writing blog posts, creating digital stories, and many more.

searchFinding and evaluating information is a critical aspect of digital literacy. While many of us English language teachers use the Internet for searching, we don’t always consciously know the strategies that we are using. Henry (2006) provides a nice pneumonic for the strategies used in searching that is really helpful when integrating search activities into our English language instruction.  Like other types of digital literacy tasks, it is useful to have a search activity that is related to a lesson or unit that is alongside the other activities in the unit. That way the Internet search utilizes the same (or related) vocabulary, grammar structures, and topical information and only the actual Internet search task is new. Some examples include finding accurate local weather information, finding job information, locating a business, researching a health condition, comparing features and prices of an object or service, etc. Creating a search activity to accompany the units in a course can be an effective way to bring digital literacy skills into your classroom that creates opportunities to practice the digital skill of online searching while also providing practice using the language in the unit.

For more information on how to integrate digital literacy into English language instruction, there is a free online module for teachers on the topic here. You can equip students with the language they need for success with resources such as the Oxford Picture Dictionary. The brand new Third Edition has been updated with a section dedicated to Digital Literacy, and includes other relevant topics such as Cyber Safety, Information Technology and Internet Research. Find out more here.

 

References

Federal Communications Commission. (2010). Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan. Retrieved from http://www.broadband.gov/download-plan/

Henry, L. A. (2006). SEARCHing for an answer: The critical role of new literacies while reading on the Internet. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 614–627.

Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Henry, L. A. (2013). New literacies: A dual-level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction and assessment. In D. E. Alvermann, N. J. Unrau, & R. B. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (6th ed.; pp. 1150–1181). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015). Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Integrating technology. WIOA Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/integrating-technology.pdf


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Reading Skills for the Selfie Generation

teenagers-tablets-learningThomas Healy is an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. A full time instructor, he presents regularly on how to adapt traditional classroom materials to meet the needs of the Selfie Generation, and how to use widely available and easy-to-use digital tools in language learning. 

Today, he previews his upcoming webinar ‘Reading Skills for the Selfie Generation’ with a short vlog outlining his approach.

The “Selfie Generation” interacts with reading materials in profoundly different ways compared to previous generations. Learners are now challenged by both print and interactive, digital text. How can we build their traditional reading skills while improving their digital literacy?

– Learn how to make your materials and classroom activities more interactive using easy-to-use an affordable computer applications

– Even non technologically minded instructors will come away with ideas that are easy to implement

In this free-to-attend webinar, you can expect to –

  • Learn how to harness technology in a productive way to support literacy and language learning for students with dyslexia at all levels
  • Gain ideas for formative assessment using appropriate apps to monitor progress
  • Embrace learning technology in simple, easy ways – no matter your budget

If you’d like to attend the webinar or receive a recording of one of the sessions, simply register at the link below.

webinar_register3


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#IATEFL – Improving pronunciation: helping students get ‘more value’ from their English

sayit1

Jenny Dance, who runs a language school in Bristol, tells us why pronunciation training is so important for her students and what led her to find a system that would allow them to practice more effectively. This blog post previews her talk at IATEFL this year, ‘Getting more value from your students’ English by improving pronunciation’.

Many students work hard to learn English vocabulary, and to develop accuracy in their usage and grammar – but when it comes to using the language orally, in real-life situations, they find a lack of understanding of pronunciation has a big impact on their capacity to communicate. To help students get the full value from the English they’ve spent time learning, they need the assistance of dedicated teachers, and engaging, effective pronunciation training tools.

‘Sound-scapes’ and making pronunciation visual

Making pronunciation visual – as well as aural – can make a huge difference in students ‘getting it’, and being motivated to improve. The Say It app can be used in the classroom to demonstrate the ‘sound-scape’ of English quickly and intuitively. Students enjoy recording themselves: they are motivated by the app to achieve a good stress-indicator match and a soundwave shape similar to the model. This video is a good example of how Say It works to support both the student and teacher in making improvements in pronunciation. It demonstrates, in particular, the power of giving students access to immediate feedback on their pronunciation (a topic researched by the psychologist James L McClelland in a study from 2002, at Carnegie Mellon University).

Stress placement

Understanding the stress placement in a word is another simple way to improve clarity in speaking. In my experience, students are often shocked to learn that misplaced stress can render their English virtually incomprehensible to native listeners. Recently, a Spanish cameraman student of mine told me he’d filmed the ‘rePLACE’ at a Real Madrid game. I assumed he didn’t know the right word, and that he’d meant the substitution; but in fact he had used the correct word, ‘REplays’, with the wrong stress placement. He had stressed the wrong syllable, and even in context, I had misunderstood.

Last week, I used Say It in the classroom to help students who were struggling to understand the difference between the pronunciation of the double-o spellings in ‘understOOd’ and ‘spOOn’. I had been patiently drilling and modelling the sounds, giving them rhyme examples and demonstrating the different mouth positions of /ʊ/ and /uː/.

As soon as I put the Say It app on the table, the students (one Chinese, one Spanish) could see, hear and touch the words on the screen. They immediately understood the difference between the double-o spelling/pronunciation in the two words. Using the app empowered them as learners; they had full control of the analysis on screen, and it demystified a point which had previously been difficult for them to grasp. The objective feedback the Say It app provided gave them more insight, and allowed them to focus on the sound and structure of the words, rather than the spelling.

If you think Say It could work with your own students, here are two suggestions for ways you could use it in the classroom.

Activity 1: ‘Where’s the stress?’

  1. Teacher puts 4 multi-syllable words on the board, and invites students to put markers where they think the primary and secondary stresses are.
  2. Students check, practise and improve their pronunciation using Say It.

Activity 2: ‘Student to student challenge’

  1. Tell students at the start of the class that they will be able to challenge their classmates to pronounce two words from the lesson as the final activity of the session.
  2. They should keep notes in the margin of a few words they think would be tricky for their classmates to pronounce.
  3. At the end of the class, student A says: ‘I challenge you to pronounce this word (written on a piece of paper)’.
  4. Student B looks the word up in Say It, recording themselves before listening to the model, and see how close they get before having the chance to analyse the sound and improve.

Jenny Dance will be giving a talk at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham, on Thu 14-Apr, 11.00-11.30, in Hall 11a. The Say It: Pronunciation from Oxford app is available to download on iTunes – there also will be a discount of up to 40% from 13-22 April.

 

References

Teaching the /r/–/l/ Discrimination to Japanese Adults: Behavioral and Neural Aspects. James L. McClelland, Julie A. Fiez and Bruce D. McCandliss in Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 77, Nos. 4–5, pages 657–662; December 2002.


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#IATEFL – Why invest in extensive reading?


IMG_3569_lowresAhead of her talk ‘Engine of Change – research into the impact of extensive reading’ at this year’s IATEFL conference, Domino author Nina Prentice explores the relevance of extensive reading in the language learning classroom, and discusses the successes of the Read On! class library project in Italy last year. 

I believe that [extensive reading] has helped me learn and develop in a number of ways. It gave me the chance to learn English differently, by having fun. It has also enriched me. Above all it has really improved my English. There isn’t a better way to learn!’

 Maria – Read On! Student 2015

‘The [extensive reading] project obliged me to invest my and my students’ energies on other activities outside the normal routines. [This] delivered unexpected outcomes in terms of motivation, learning, and students’ self-esteem thereby facilitating lessons even outside the project.’

Professoressa Confetta, Della Chiesa Middle School, Reggio Emilia 2015

What is extensive reading and how can it transform learning? The short answer is reading by choice and for pleasure but what does this mean in practice?

The two comments above, reflecting on last year’s participation in OUP Italy’s Read On! class library project, show that reading extensively makes a real difference – to individual students’ growth and to effective teaching and learning in the classroom.  But it does require an investment of energy and time. This post will look briefly at what it takes to invest in extensive reading and how it enriches students, like Maria, who have enjoyed learning in this way.

INVESTING YOUR ENERGIES IN A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Extensive reading works well alongside traditional language learning methods but this kind of reading is not about comprehension exercises, book reports and spot quizzes. It is about motivating students by giving them choice, responsibility and the opportunity to enjoy reading free of the usual classroom obligations.  

INVESTING TIME IN THE CLASS LIBRARY

The Class Library is the heart of extensive reading. For the OUP Read On! project in Italy, teachers use a mobile trolley suitcase library filled with around 90 OUP graded readers, four for each class member, so that borrowing works smoothly. Teachers and students take time to:

  • Celebrate their class library with a welcome party
  • Organise their borrowing system and choose class librarians
  • Enjoy the library, opening it in every lesson so students and the teacher can exchange books freely and frequently.
  • Share everybody’s reading experiences, likes and dislikes.

INVESTING IN CREATIVE READING ACTIVITIES

Another key approach is to enjoy alternative classroom activities encouraging students to explore their reading through games, drama, videos, illustration, newspaper reporting, CLIL links and research. Check out the Read On! Website for practical ideas: www.oup.com/elt/readon

INVESTING IN READING FLUENCY

Reading requires practice. There are no short cuts. Fluent readers decode words and understand meaning rapidly with little mental effort. Learning becomes easier because students don’t translate every word they read.

To invest in reading fluency means:

  • Starting simply and working your way up. Persuade students to read easier low-level graded readers in the class library before tackling higher levels.  Ban dictionaries. There should be no more than one or two words on the page that the learner does not understand.
  • Ensuring students have time to read extensively. Give your class regular 10 minutes silent reading breaks during lessons two or three times a week. Encourage students to read on the bus travelling to and from school. Give reading time instead of homework for one night a week.
  • Practicing regularly. Students read for 20 minutes a day, aiming to read one to two graded readers a week.

Extensive reading is pleasurable, interesting and fun: never a chore. Inspire your students. Show how much you love reading. Read alongside them and promote and enjoy alternative activities linked to their reading. Your students will grow and your classroom will be enriched. Read On!

 


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Bottom-up decoding: reading

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachersMark Bartram has been a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer for more than 30 years.

In a previous post, we looked at some of the areas we might explore when training our learners in bottom-up strategies for listening. In this post, I’d like to do the same for reading.

(We take it as read that reading fluency depends on the learners’ general linguistic competence. So all of the following discussion assumes that any training programme will also include work on building up this, especially vocabulary.)

It was suggested previously that top-down approaches (where the learners use their knowledge of the world to help understand a text) can provide enjoyable ways “into” a text, especially for the reluctant or weaker reader. These might lead into useful work on sub-skills such as skimming and scanning.

Bottom-up approaches, on the other hand, encourage the learners to develop their ability to understand the text at a deeper or more intensive level. These are designed to help learners “decode” the text in front of them and, crucially, to give them transferable skills to allow them to comprehend the next text they read.

Certain types of activity will be appropriate for all levels, even if the actual language items will differ. These might include work on referencing within the text. For example we ask learners to underline a number of pronouns like it/they or demonstratives like this/these in the text and then work out what they refer to. Ideally, the referent will not always be the most recent noun in the text! Another area is conjunction: we might blank out a few conjunctions in a text and ask learners to suggest a suitable conjunction (or choose between options) for each space. The learners should also explain their choice, as this encourages them to explain the relationships between different parts of the text.

Other activities will depend on the reading level of the learners. Early readers will work more on building up fluency through work on word recognition, and recognising correspondences between spelling and sounds, eg that “ph” is pronounced /f/. Developing readers might focus on ellipsis (sentences with missing words) eg identifying the missing words in “They’re going to write a blog  and post it on their website”1 or paraphrasing/lexical variation, as in

Some education specialists recently put on a festival to encourage children to make mistakes! Yes, it’s true. The experts were worried that young people are not creative and innovative enough for the modern world.

The learners look for examples where the writer has used synonyms to describe the same thing (specialists/experts, children/young people).  The aim here is not primarily to extend the learners’ vocabulary (though this may happen incidentally) but to train them in looking for such variations in future texts.

Advanced readers, especially those in academic contexts, might concentrate on decoding complex sentences. For example, let us imagine that learners are working on a text which contains this sentence:

Developed countries, like those in Europe and North America, waste around 650 million tonnes of food each year and so do developing countries.

The activity might involve the learners answering these questions:

1. What is the verb? (answer: waste)

2. What or who is doing the wasting (or, with learners who have the necessary terminology, “what is the subject of the verb?”)? (answer: developed countries)

3. What do they waste? (answer: 650 million tonnes etc)

4. What does the word “so” refer back to? (answer: the verb “waste”)

5. How could you make this a sentence on its own? (answer: developing countries also waste food)

Learners should recognise that these questions form a process:  locating the verb is a good way to start decoding a sentence, followed by subject and then (if there is one) the object. As the sentences the learners encounter become progressively more complex, this skill becomes more automatic.

Another example might be summary words (very common in academic writing). In the following text, learners might be asked to say what “this process” refers to.

As early as the sixteenth century, English had already adopted words from around fifty other languages, and today the figure stands at over 120. But how did this process happen?

Finally, they may be asked to look for words and phrases that demonstrate the writer’s stance towards the information they are describing. Modal verbs, sentence adverbs like significantly, and “think and report” verbs like claim) can be noted and interpreted.

Even when a text (for example, in a coursebook) is being mainly used for other purposes such as grammar work or discussion, the teacher can always introduce the ideas above, just by asking learners “What does the word ‘they’ in line 22 refer to?” or “Why does the writer use the verb ‘confirm’ rather than ‘say’? How would the sense change if she used ‘claim’ instead?” and so on. These kinds of questions only take a minute or two, but focus the learners’ attention on important details in the text that top-down activities may skip over.

To see bottom-up decoding in practice in the classroom, watch Navigate author Rachael Roberts’ video demonstration here.

This article first appeared in the February edition of Teaching Adults newsletter. If you’d like to receive more articles like this and resources for teaching adult language learners, sign up here.