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How teachers can give students the confidence to succeed at university

teenagers celebratingAs a teacher, one of my greatest pleasures is seeing my students finish their course of study at school and move on to bigger and better things. For many of them, this means going on to university – an opportunity to study their area of special interest, pursue their dreams and gain the qualifications they need for a successful career. I am proud to say that many of my students have done just that, gaining desirable jobs in finance, marketing, aeronautics, design and tourism to name a few. The key to success is confidence.

Making that initial leap from school to university education in your own language is challenging enough, even more so when you are doing it in a second language. Not one of my former students has said that it was easy, but they all agree that it was worthwhile. You want your students – so packed with potential – to walk into their first university seminar brimming with confidence and enthusiasm, ready to engage, question and share their views. So how can you help them achieve that?

Can you teach confidence?

Of course some people have more confidence than others when it comes to putting their opinions forward. At university, your students will be expected to contribute to seminar discussions, workshops and debates, discuss ideas and theories with their peers and respond appropriately to their contributions. This is something that you can encourage your students to do in every lesson, building their confidence gradually as they move through their course of study.

Take every possible opportunity to engage and involve the students personally in the lesson content:

  • Raise their ‘schema’ (knowledge and interest) on a topic by asking them questions, e.g. Do you know anything about this topic? Have you ever read/heard about this? What do you know about it?
  • Ask them whether the content of a text or listening relates to their own experiences and to give their personal responses – do they agree/disagree with the writer/speaker and why?
  • To promote independence, put them into pairs to have mini-discussions on these points and then report back to the class.

Every opportunity you give your students to engage personally with a topic will fire their imagination and enhance their motivation.

More than words

A challenge for non-native students at university is understanding the underlying (hidden) meaning in academic texts whether they are written or spoken – in lecture or discussion form. In English, so much meaning is conveyed through how something is written or said (or in some cases not written or said).

Where possible, draw your students’ attention to the more subtle discourse features such as:

  • understanding the writer’s intention or purpose
  • inferring meaning from context
  • considering whether a source is valid or biased
  • encourage them to be curious, to delve deeper to find hidden meaning and intentions.

At first, your students may not be used to questioning or constructively criticising the work of a published academic. However, this is acceptable and even encouraged in at university level in many countries. Your students may need time and practice to come around to this way of working, but that’s OK, these things take time.

Say it right

That first university seminar is a great milestone in academia for native and non-native speakers alike. When to speak? What to say? Who to say it to? How to respond if someone speaks to me? Will I say the right thing? What will my tutor/lecturer/peers think of me and my opinions? That brings us back to confidence again.

To help your students get it right first time you can:
  • Draw attention to how they should give and respond to opinions appropriately.
  • Remind them that it isn’t just what you say, it’s the way you say it – being too direct might cause offence while being indirect could lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Encourage them to watch debates, current affairs programmes, podcasts and lectures on TV or online.
  • Teach useful phrases for softening responses, e.g. That’s a valid point but I’m afraid I disagree. / I’m inclined to disagree with you because …
  • Highlight hedging phrases such as tend to / seem to to avoid making generalisations.
  • Remind your students that conversations are a two-way thing – you don’t just wait for your turn to speak – you listen and respond both verbally and physically – with appropriate body language such as a nod of the head or politely indicating another speaker to go ahead if you accidentally interrupt them
  • Give students plenty of opportunities for collaboration and interaction during lessons in order to help them practise and hone these essential conversation skills.
  • Most importantly, encourage them to have a go and say what they want to say because their contributions are as valuable as any other person in the room.

The leap to university is only the beginning but at least with your help they will have started on the right foot.


Lara Storton has seventeen years of experience in ESL, teaching English for Academic Purposes and teacher training, and has written the Milestones in English Student’s Book and Teacher’s Book at B1+ level.

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


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5 Thanksgiving Resources for your Classroom

Thanksgiving Turkey with OUP logoThanksgiving, a national holiday celebrated for the most part in North America and Canada, falls on Thursday, November 22nd this year. This holiday is seen as a day to give thanks, traditionally for the harvest of the previous year. Traditionally this holiday is spent with family, it’s traditional to have a special meal to celebrate the occasion. To help mark Thanksgiving for our English language teachers, we’ve created some free resources for download and use in your classroom, designed for language learners of mixed abilities.

These worksheets were produced by our own Oxford teacher-trainer, Stacey Hughes. To see more of Stacey’s work on the blog, click here.

Free worksheets!

Included is a high-level worksheet exploring the history of Thanksgiving, a multi-level ‘fill in the blanks’ worksheet, a themed information gathering exercise, and two elementary worksheets. All are photocopiable.

Found these useful? Feel free to share this with your teaching colleagues!

Download Resources button

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our teaching community that celebrate the holiday!


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The extended essay: Essential skills for English language learners

Student looking confused

Lindsay Warwick discusses the challenges that students face when writing essays, and how the process writing approach can help to prepare for extended writing assignments. Lindsay Warwick is a teacher, trainer and materials writer. She is co-author of the forthcoming Milestones in English A2 and B1+ Student’s Books, publishing in January 2016.

As those of you working with students learning to study in English know, it requires many more skills than those covered by academic English exams. Of course students need to have effective English language skills and learning strategies to enable them to understand and produce academic material.  But my time teaching business studies on a university foundation course has taught me that young adults may not have developed academic skills in their own language and often need the time and space to learn these in addition to their English skills.

Part of my role was to set and mark business assignments written by a group of international students. My focus was on the content assessment rather than the language assessment (for a nice change) which was done by a colleague. Students had had a lot of input on how to source appropriate information and include a bibliography but these still proved an issue for some students. Online cheat essays were used as sources and students were surprised that these were not academically acceptable. After all, they’d referenced the site, they said.

Writing is not a standalone skill and in an academic context, often follows listening or reading in English. Another big challenge for my students was thoroughly understanding written material in order to be able to paraphrase it and synthesize it into their own work; a challenging skill even for native speakers.

Despite having been made fully aware of issues of plagiarism and having had practice in researching and synthesizing information in more controlled tasks, not all students seemed readily able to apply these techniques to extended writing in subject topics. In light of this, I believe that adopting a process writing approach to preparing students for writing extended assignments can be very beneficial; specifically, building up from short to longer texts that require researching and writing about other author’s points of view.

There are three key stages to the writing process: Pre-writing, drafting and redrafting, and editing (Hedge, 2005). Advocates say that it encourages learners to engage with the writing process more fully as well as learn to write as they write.

For me the most important advantage of this approach is that it allows students to receive feedback from their tutor and classmates at each stage of their writing rather than only at the end. Feedback has one of the most significant, positive effects on learning (Hattie 2013) and helps students to improve their approach and techniques as they write. In addition, students learn to peer and self-assess which are also key components of learning (Black & William, 2001) and useful skills for university students.

A process writing approach to an extended piece of writing might involve the following.

  1. Generating ideas: students share and question each other’s ideas in order to generate further ideas and develop higher order thinking skills. Techniques such as ‘cubing’ can be very useful here i.e. looking at a topic from six different perspectives. You can start with a simple What? Where? Why? When? Who? How?
  2. Research: students check that each other’s sources are academically acceptable to avoid referencing issues from the start. Encouraging students to use a free online citation tool from the beginning (e.g. zotero) means they can bookmark reference material and have it create a bibliography for them at the end. Students no longer have to scrabble around in their browser history to find an article they vaguely remember seeing three weeks ago.
  3. Planning: teacher/students assess plans to pre-empt issues of organisation and synthesis. Teachers may also wish to add their own comments, either to each student’s plan or by taking one or two (anonymous) plans and discussing them with the whole class.
  4. Draft 1: teacher/students offer feedback on content, organisation, synthesis and referencing so far to help move the student forward in their next draft.
  5. Final draft: students peer assess for accuracy to aid final editing.

If students are paired with the same student throughout this process, they can really support each other and see how each other’s work has developed. It will encourage a lot of reflection, both self- and peer, that will help develop metacognition. However, in my experience, for self- and peer assessment to be successful, assessment criteria should be made clear to students so they have something to assess against when giving feedback e.g. Other author’s work will be referenced appropriately. Language prompts will also help students provide constructive feedback (e.g. You referenced XXX well. I think you need to reference…next time).

Whether a teacher will be able to spend time offering feedback to all students at all stages depends very much on the number of students and time they have. But by using self- and peer assessment, students can learn from each other, develop meta-cognition and develop important extended writing skills as they write and not have to wait until their next assignment to put feedback into practice when it may have been forgotten.

 

 

References and Further Reading

Black P & William D, Inside the Black Box, GL Assessment Ltd, 1990

Hattie J, Visible Learning for Teachers, Routledge, 2011

Hedge T, Writing, OUP, 2005


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Motivation: What is it and why does it matter?

Man shouting in celebrationStephen Ryan has been a language teacher for over twenty-five years and is currently based in Tokyo. He is interested in various aspects of psychology in language learning but particularly in learner motivation. He has recently co-authored (with Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams) the Oxford University Press book Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching.

Motivation has become a ‘hot’ topic within language education, attracting considerable attention from both researchers and teachers. There is now widespread agreement that motivation is a key factor in successful language learning and that even the very best teaching is unlikely to be effective without motivated learners. However, it is worth remembering that this has not always been the case and that such interest in the motivation of language learners is a relatively recent development.

For a very long time researchers and teachers, unsurprisingly, were focused on teaching, on understanding the most effective teaching methods and techniques. The assumption behind this approach was that if only we could find the best ways to teach then learning would occur automatically. There was very little consideration of the learner’s role in the learning process or of any variability among learners. The only real acknowledgement of learner individuality came in the form of aptitude; learners were believed to have certain innate abilities and these abilities determined both the pace of learning and the ultimate level of attainment. Fortunately, over the years, teachers have come to think more about the contributions learners make to their own learning and this learner-centred outlook places motivation at the centre of the learning process. This new, prominent role for motivation seems like a very hopeful and optimistic development, suggesting that both teachers and learners have the power to shape learning.

But what exactly is motivation and how can we as teachers enhance motivation in our learners? In the first part of this webinar I will discuss what it is we really mean when we use the word ‘motivation’. Of course, it is a word that we all use in our everyday lives, and as such it is a word we tend to use somewhat loosely. However, when we discuss ‘motivation’ in a professional sense, there is a clear need to be more focused in what we mean and in this webinar I hope to challenge some of the assumptions behind familiar, everyday understandings of motivation.

The theory of motivation is a fascinating topic, spanning a huge range of human behaviour and psychology—in fact, there is far too much to cover in a single webinar. Therefore, in this webinar I intend to concentrate on some of the more practical aspects of motivation and those most closely related to the concerns of language teachers—and learners. In particular, I would like us to think about some of the ways in which teachers use rewards in order to motivate their students and the possible motivational effects of teacher praise and feedback.

Although the webinar will be based around my own views on motivation, I will be making every effort to give you the opportunity to share your ideas. I sincerely hope that you will be ready to participate so that we can enjoy a lively and productive exchange of ideas.

register-for-webinar


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Six ways to boost classroom participation: Part Three – Embracing different learning styles

shutterstock_264026564

This is the second article of a six-part series on boosting classroom participation. Last week, we heard about overcoming both teacher and student anxiety in the EFL classroom. In this article, Zarina discusses different learning styles and how to support those students who may not be as receptive to our usual forms of teaching.

“There are no difficult students – just students who don’t want to do it your way.” Revell, J. and Norman, S. (1999): p.65.

In the previous article in this series, I looked at the presence of anxiety in the EFL classroom, and the various techniques you can employ in order to reduce it. I explored how you can stage competitions and games to help students to overcome fears of making mistakes. These kinds of activities are also beneficial for the way that they often provide for more than one learning style, and so engage a diverse range of students.

First let’s start by thinking about the many different tasks involved in playing a game, whether it’s simple or complex. There is often something visual to look at, there will be instructions to listen to, and usually there is something to do, which could involve moving around the room, or moving things around (for example, a counter on a board). If we look at this in terms of learning styles we can categorise the same things into: Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic learning styles. Some like to refer to these styles as VAK, others add ‘R’ for Reading / Writing and refer to it as VARK. If you are interested in finding out about you or your students’ preferred learning styles are, try this online questionnaire.

Of course, we can’t simply put individuals into such narrowly defined categories, and it’s impossible to teach to suit each and every student’s personal learning style (even if you knew what it was). More pragmatically, however, I think we can provide an array of activities to engage a range of learning styles.

Who is being difficult – the learner, or the teacher?

Whether you are a believer in the theory that we have preferred styles of learning or not, you have to admit that being exposed to only one style (for example, concentrating solely on an audio input, such as a lecture) can be exhausting, both for the teacher and the learner. It seems quite feasible that in such a situation, rather than the learner being ‘difficult’, they simply ‘don’t want to do it your way’.

The more years we teach, there is a danger that we tend to fall back on activities and methodologies that we believe work well or feel safe with. There is a possibility that our lessons get a bit ‘samey’, with the same kind of pace, the same type of activities, the same students taking an interest, and the same students not really engaging in the lesson. One reason this can happen is that we will often end up teaching according to our preferred style, which may be strongly influenced by our own learning styles. (Note I say styles, because the likelihood is that we are a blend of them, with certain preferred tendencies; we can never completely have only one learning style.) Moving out of our comfort zone takes more effort and energy. So how about trying something slightly different?

Things to try

  1. Take a photocopiable text that has clear paragraphs and subheadings. Make copies for several groups of students (one per group) and cut up the paragraphs. Depending on the level of your students, you could cut up the subheadings as well. Students have to figure out the gist and topics of each paragraph to match it to a subheading, before putting the paragraphs in order.By taking this reading activity ‘onto the table,’ it instantly becomes kinaesthetic. It encourages more discussion, collaboration and cooperation, and a spatial/visual element comes into play, as the students move the paragraphs into the correct order. This kind of activity uses all three of the learning styles. By giving points for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quickest teams, you have a competition that adds more impetus and incentive to the activity.
  2. Using sticky labels, you can review vocabulary and definitions (either pictorial or written); verbs and prepositions; collocations; present and past forms of a verb; or two halves of an idiom.
    a. Write out enough stickers so there is one for each student and stick it on each of their backs. The stickers need to be written in pairs, so for example, you need to have a word on one, and its definition on the other. If you have an odd number of students, consider joining in yourself or make one a group of three (for example, water – bottle – bank, where water collocates with bottle, and bottle collocates with bank.)
    b. The idea is that each person finds their partner. Students must read each other’s cards out loud. Thus reading, speaking and listening occur – using auditory, reading and kinaesthetic learning styles simultaneously. Students often help one another by reminding each other of the meaning of their own card or answering queries about their sticker. Because by the end, with help if necessary, everyone has found their partner(s), you can use this as a review exercise that randomly mixes the class. You can form new groups, or use it as a lead-in to an extensive reading, writing, listening or speaking activity. NOTE: Be prepared for some noise, but good noise!
  1. If you have more serious students who you think may be averse to game-like activities, try this one.
    a. Set a piece of writing work and collect it in to mark, as you normally would.
    b. Correct it using a correction code, rather than making the corrections for them. By correction code I mean writing: sp – indicates a spelling error; vt – indicates the wrong verb tense but correct verb; sv – the subject and verb of the sentence don’t agree, etc.
    c. Now make a list of nine sentences with mistakes that you think the whole class will benefit from discussing. Make sure that you only use one sentence from one student’s work, i.e. sentences from nine different students.
    d. Place students into two groups. Provide a handout with the list of nine sentences that you noted, with mistakes. Give the students time to mull over the sentences and to try and spot the errors. It is important that each sentence contains common mistakes that everyone can benefit from seeing, but also not too many mistakes to have to think about – so you may want to change the sentences slightly from how they were originally written.
    e. After they’ve had enough time, draw up noughts and crosses lines; number each box 1-9; make one team noughts (o) and the other crosses (x)
    xsandos
    f. Students have to try and get a straight line of either noughts or crosses, depending on which team they are in, while trying to block the opposing team. The numbers correspond to the sentences on the handout. They have to strategically choose a sentence and try to correct it. If they don’t manage to do so, the opposing team gets a bonus point if they can successfully correct it.
    g. Give their actual marked written work back (with your correction code) at the end of the game. I guarantee you will have a group of earnestly competitive students who are suddenly interested in written corrections!

Look out for Part Four in this series, next week. I’ll be exploring how you can experiment with different questioning techniques to get more out of your students.

References

Fleming ND (2001) Teaching and Learning Styles: VARK Strategies. Honolulu Community College.
Revell, J. and Norman, S. (1999) Handing Over: NLP-based Activities for Language Learning, Saffire: p.65.

 

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Teaching Adults. To find out more about the newsletter and to sign up, click here