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Digital Burnout – It’s Time To Take Back Control!

My escape and healing from digital burnout - Erika Osváth

My escape and healing from digital overload – Erika Osváth

As a teacher and teacher trainer, my life turned upside down under the pressures of Covid-19. I found myself spending most of my day sitting in front of my laptop, striving to pass on the kind of knowledge I used to do face-to-face. I would get messages from students and teacher colleagues in the afternoon and late in the evening and would feel obliged to respond as soon as I read them. I was cooking lunch, doing the washing up and all the rest during my breaks, while making sure my daughters are also “on task”, sitting in front of their devices following their teachers.

Are you experiencing digital burnout?

After a few weeks, my eyes started to get sore, I would get more and more easily irritated by minor things happening around me. It was getting more difficult to get out of bed and feel the morning start with the right kind of uplifting energy. The feeling of confinement and disconnection from people started to take over. All these feelings were a sign of digital burnout. As I have discovered after some research, these feelings may lead to a serious state of anxiety or even depression.

How can I get out of this? What is it that I do have control over, or I can regain control over? I asked myself. After some quiet, self-reflective occasions I came up with a few ideas for myself, and made a conscious effort to follow them trying to keep in mind the well-known Hungarian saying, which I personally relate to: “Help yourself and God will help you.” The kind of feedback I got from my family, my colleagues and my friends tell me that it has been a successful endeavour. If any of the above feelings resonate with you, here are some of the things I helped myself with and may work for you too.

Self-discipline

1) Create a daily schedule

Create a daily schedule with the family and for yourself. Make sure you include the following things:

  1. Regular breaks between the online times.
  2. Small pleasures such as, making yourself a nice cup of tea or doing a quick 15-minute yoga or chi kung routine, instead of looking at Facebook posts or Instagram or anything online or involving a screen.
  3. Some kind of physical exercise.
  4. Silent moments to wind down excluding anything that involves a screen, such as video games or watching TV.

Top Tip – Involve your whole family in working out the daily schedule and get your children to make a poster out of it, something you can refer to during the day. Reflect on what has been achieved on a particular day with your family and at the end of the day, say, over dinner. These conversations may help you and others realize the control you have over your thinking, and things that happen to you or around you. Here are some reflective questions you can ask to help manage digital burnout:

  • Did I/we have regular breaks? What did I do during the breaks?
  • Did I do any physical exercise?
  • What was the beauty I saw/experienced today?
  • How do I feel now? Why do I feel in this way? What are some of the things that helped me feel this way? What are some of the things I can change?

2) Set boundaries

Be strict with yourself and your students about the times when you are online and ready to answer questions, offer support, etc. I told my students that I will not answer any questions after 5:00 p.m. Turning off the internet or mobile data services on your devices is a great way to protect yourself from digital burnout.

Conscious focus

1) Redirect your focus

It is a great idea to redirect your attention from a virtual superficial surface, which is the digital world, to things through which your senses – touch, smell, taste, seeing, hearing – can be activated in other ways. Make this a conscious practise until the habit is formed. For example, in break times, water your plants, touch the leaves, examine every single change you can observe from one day to another. Or make yourself a special cup of tea with refined aroma, one that you love, say a nice cup of Tulsi chai, and enjoy every sip of it.

Top Tip: It is key that you focus only on the thing that you redirect your attention to and shut out any other impressions that may want to intrude.

2) Arts and movement

Make a conscious choice of creating beauty in the form of any art and movement every day. For example, drawing, painting, handcraft, something close to your heart. You can also dance at home on your own to the music of your choice, something that makes your cells excited or follow a 5-rhythm pattern, or if possible, join a dance club, and learn a new dance, such as argentine tango, which is what I did 😊.

Top Tip – You do not have to be an expert in the arts. Use this as a means of connecting to something you find beautiful without having expectations towards yourself.

Self-love and joy

1) Start a diary

Build a friendship with yourself, through maintaining an inner dialogue answering self-discovery questions and writing about them in a beautiful paper diary with your favourite pen. Some of these questions may be: When I wake up in the morning how do I most want to feel? What do I need to let go of? etc. If you do an online search for “journaling questions for self-reflection” you will find a great number of guiding prompts and questions to build a better connection with yourself.

2) Connect with people

Instead of sending messages on digital devices phone your friends and family members every day and have quality connections with them. Communication through short messages is extremely limiting and shallow. Human voice and attention are given to the person you are speaking to add an extra dimension and quality to your connection. Hug your loved ones whenever you can. This is both physically and emotionally healing. It is well-known from research that hugs heal feelings of loneliness and isolation as well as build trust and a sense of safety.

3) Be of service to others

Be of service to others in whatever way it fits you. Find a good deed every day, a small act of kindness that you consciously look for and do without wanting anything in return. It can also be something bigger, such as volunteering. From time to time share these moments with your students, get them to come up with small acts of kindness they can offer to be of service to people around themselves, including listening to somebody with empathy. Encourage them to give something they possess, if not something material then their time and/or their attention to each other. Shifting the focus from “I” to “we” or “you” in this way is a great way to fill your life with joy.

 

Prioritise your wellbeing with our latest book, ‘Teacher Wellbeing’!

See our Practical Guide to Teacher Wellbeing

 


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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Top 10 Tips To Help Your Online Lessons Run Smoothly!

Teacher frustrated at online lessonsFor many of us, it’s been a while since our teaching world got turned upside down and we found ourselves moving from a physical classroom to online lessons in a matter of hours. It feels like a lifetime ago since we were left wondering what the best practice for online teaching was. In this initial online period, often referred to as the period of emergency remote teaching (ERT), the best advice for running a smooth lesson included such sage things as to ensure you have a good microphone and lighting.

Fast forward to the present day and we’re moving out of the ERT situation and gaining confidence in our online teaching. In this light, I asked a number of teachers around the world what advice they would now give for ensuring the smooth running of online lessons. From what they told me I have collated the top ten tips to help your online lessons run smoothly.

1. Manage the technical stuff

Just because we are now more settled into the online rhythm doesn’t mean we should get overconfident with how things work. As such the initial advice of check your sound and video, make sure your internet connection is stable, still hold true. As many of us have learned just because things worked in one lesson it doesn’t mean they will in the next, so always check. If you’re just beginning with online lessons then follow some basic rules:

  • If you can, make sure you have a quiet, uncluttered space that you can run your lessons from. It should have good lightening so that when you are on webcam you can be seen clearly.
  • Be as close to your internet router as you can. If you have the possibility of using a cable for your internet then do as this can give you a more consistent connection.
  • Wear headphones when you’re teaching as this will cut down feedback caused by you and your students having their mics on. Encourage students to wear them as well.
  • Before your first lesson, familiarise yourself with the platform you are using. While platforms vary in their functionality, for your first lesson make sure you know how to switch on sound and vision, use the chatbox, and share your screen. This last one will mean you can show materials to the students.
  • Don’t worry about becoming a platform expert overnight, it is more important to make sure both you and your students feel comfortable with the key features. To that end, use your first lesson to teach students how the room is used, don’t assume they will simply work it out. If you’re looking for more support in this area there are a plethora of resources on the Internet though you could start with OUP’s digital teaching resources.

2. Assume the students are not tech-savvy

To quote a teacher in Portugal, “Just because you’ve spent the last 7 months in online lessons, becoming tech-savvy, don’t presume your learners have!” Always make sure in first classes that you give the students the language they need to operate i.e. “How do I turn on my camera?”. Make sure you’ve explained or introduced any new tools or features of the room before the students are set a language task.

3. Expect the unexpected

Rather like falsely assuming your mic and camera will always work, it would be wrong not to be ready for the unexpected. You never know what the online classroom might throw up. For example, what happens if the students’ connections are having a slow internet day? Is there a low-tech solution? You could send any lesson materials in advance so the students have the chance to get and access them before the lesson begins.

4. Adopt a positive mindset

Many teachers still yearn to be back in the same physical space as their students and continue to find the lack of proximity a major hurdle to their lessons. However, a positive mindset will rub off on everyone in a lesson and as a result should make the lesson smoother. To aid that make sure you aren’t trying too hard, teachers often seek lesson perfection and then dwell on any aspect in a lesson that didn’t quite get to that level, overlooking the many things that went well.

5. Write it down

This is a multi-layered tip. First, it refers to planning. While many of you are bound to make detailed plans already think in the planning stage about elements that encourage the students to talk. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that your online lessons have been quite teacher-led, so now is the time to think about creating opportunities for the students to speak and interact more.

Next, it refers to physically writing it down for students. Have you noticed in a lesson when you rely on oral instructions that you have to repeat it so many times and still not everyone gets it? So, have written instructions to put on-screen to aid your words. You can have these on a slide that you can display by screen share at the appropriate moment.

And last but not least, write it down refers to making use of written comments. Though you’re meeting in a virtual classroom there are still many ways writing is used in your lesson. For starters there is the chatbox, ensure you reply to comments and answer questions in the chatbox so the students feel acknowledged. If your room allows it, use private messaging to do things like praise a student or give them extra support. Furthermore, if you use an external collaboration tool like a Google Doc or a discussion board, leave comments there so the students know the teacher is ‘there’ if needed.

6. Use your classroom tools purposefully

In other words, don’t confuse technology with teaching. A lot was made at the beginning of ERT about what virtual rooms can do and what tools can be added to them. It perhaps led teachers to the expectation that lessons needed to be all bells and whistles. While you’re probably ready to do this now, do remember that your room tools should be used purposefully. For example, there is arguably no point in putting people in and out of breakout rooms for short tasks. While you might feel like this brings a more student-centred lesson, you’re in fact making for a very stop-start sort of lesson and inadvertently giving over a lot of time to managing the classroom. One longer meaningful task will ensure more time for the students to meaningfully work together.

Whatever external tools you choose, stick with them. There is nothing wrong with using the same tool, in fact, the more you use it the more the students get to know it and the smoother the lesson becomes. Chopping and changing to try and utilise the current tool of fashion just leads to confused students and dedicating lesson time to showing how the tool works rather than getting on with the teaching.

7. The whiteboard is your friend

A small confession here, I struggle with online whiteboards. They are difficult to write on, I forget to give students the permission to use it and it often means stopping the sharing of one screen to share another. All things which can affect the smoothness of my lessons. However, rather than simply avoid them I am trying to make them my friend.

Since I tend to use a slide deck I’ve learned to include white slides amongst my deck that I can use as aboard. This eliminates the need to switch back and forth. I can also prepare slides as boards making me feel more prepared. Other teachers have achieved the same by using external whiteboard sites (easy to find with a quick internet search) or using a shared document. Additionally, to quote a teacher in Ukraine “a virtual board makes lessons more visual”. What’s more, you can usually save your board for future reference and to be used as a revision tool in a future lesson.

8. Keep them focused

Let’s face it even in the physical classroom, keeping kids focused is often a challenge and online this is amplified. One technique for dealing with this is to use visual cues at different points of the lesson to check the kids are still following along and not doing something. The visual clue should be a signal or action that you do at various points in the lesson and everyone has to copy as quickly as possible.

9. Community

If ERT was about a quick transformation from face to face to online, now it is perhaps time to think about how we can effectively maximise educational opportunities. A way to do this is to go beyond the lesson and turn the class into a community. Some of the teachers who sent me tips talked about how they’ve used instant messengers to create groups to allow students to discuss things like language issues and homework problems outside of class. By doing so they feel the virtual classes have run a lot more effectively. This might not be suitable for every teacher so another option is to look into asynchronous areas that can have running discussion boards and be used to distribute work.

Not everything has to be done through the live online class, especially as there is so much to achieve within that time anyway.   This will help with the community aspect and it does make language learning fairer for your students. Not all are comfortable synchronously and not everyone has the same access abilities to be online at the same time. Planning lessons that utilise various online means should lead to an all-round better learning experience.

10. Find a teachers’ room

At first glance, you might wonder how this will make your lessons run smoothly, however despite being tenth on the list it was the most submitted piece of advice. Not only are teachers missing their classrooms but they’re missing their staffrooms as well. The place they go to find support and get stuff off their chest. It’s important for both well-being and to keep the positive mindset suggested in tip 4. Looking after oneself and having good support is a fundamental step in ensuring you’re an effective educator. Teaching from home can bring a sense of isolation so if you can, find a place to act as your teachers’ room, be it the various ELT groups on social media, joining one of the many online events that ELT organisations are running or making use of initiatives like the IATEFL BESIG online breakroom where teachers can drop by and chat.

My thanks to all the teachers that gave me their advice to use.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?

Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?

Or are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?

Get into your stride with digital teaching

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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Welcome to Camp ELT Online!

ELT Camp OnlineAre you planning to attend Camp this summer? Join us for the first-ever Camp ELT Online, where we’ll have five days of free webinars focusing on virtual teaching, with handouts, social media challenges, and opportunities to connect with other ELT teachers.

Oxford University Press experts from around the globe will offer guidance on building an engaging virtual or blended class in this interactive webinar series. Camp will start with the basics on setting up your technology and move through practical support on how to build a syllabus as well as engage and assess your students digitally before applying those strategies in the final sessions of the week.

Throughout the week, join us on Twitter using #CampELTOnline to participate in Camp challenges! Everyone is welcome to Camp, where teachers will connect with each other around the world and grow their ELT community.

Camp ELT Online Schedule

Choosing your platform and tools by Andy Barbiero & Charlotte Murphy

June 22, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

The first steps to teaching online involve identifying what you need to successfully teach your students and how to effectively use free videoconferencing tools or school-provided LMS systems to teach your ELT learners.

Planning your syllabus and adapting to changes by Sandra Borges & Gabriella Havard

June 23, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00 PM Eastern Time

Even if you’re teaching the same classes, starting a new semester in the current circumstances requires a fresh look at your approach to pacing and assignments – and allowing yourself flexibility to adapt when you need to.

Engaging and assessing your students online by Sarah Rogerson & Christopher Sheen

June 24, 2020, 1:00 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

Building a community where students can be active learners online involves new types of student engagement and continuous assessment. Together, we’ll discuss types of student engagement and ways to incorporate each into the classroom, as well as how to build assessment in at every stage.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Step Forward, 2nd edition by Philip Haines

June 25, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the first session, we’ll discuss how Step Forward, our standards-aligned course for adult learners, can be used in virtual classes.

Taking advantage of digital courses: Q: Skills for Success, 3rd edition by Paul Woodfall

June 25, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

How can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your textbook when you’re teaching students online? In the second session, we’ll talk about the various digital components of Q: Skills for Success and how they work together.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Picture Dictionary, 3rd edition by Harcourt Settle

June 26, 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the first session of the day, we’ll explore ideas to bring the Oxford Picture Dictionary into virtual classes as a supplement for adult learners.

Rounding out your course with online resources: Oxford Online Placement Test and Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, 10th edition by Diana Lea and Sarah Rogerson

June 26, 2020, 1:30 – 2:30 PM Eastern Time

It’s simple to bring additional material into lessons, but is it the same when your classes are online? In the second session, we’ll talk about resources to place your students and how to use the OALD for general English and academic classes.

 

Join us for Camp ELT Online from June 22-26, 2020!

Register for Camp ELT Online


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5 ways to Engage with Students Online (and Face-to-Face, too!)

young girl on laptopRemote teaching is new to many of us, teachers, as well as being new to many students. Even when we are teaching in class sometimes it gets difficult to keep the students on task for various reasons. With schools closing down in many countries, it can be very challenging to engage students for entire online lessons.

Embracing new digital tools to deliver lessons, shortening the hours of teaching and blending lessons with EdTech can be very beneficial for both teachers and students. There are also a few more tricks we can use to keep students focused.  Here are some ideas to spice up your online lessons with primary students. Many of these can also can be implemented in your face-to-face lessons.

1) Find Something Blue in Your House in 45 Seconds

Since all your students are at home, you can begin your lesson with a warm-up which takes advantage of the fact that your students are at home.  Ask your students to find something blue in the house and share it with the rest of the class via their camera. Set a time limit for this activity, or some students will wander around in the house for hours. You can begin with 45 seconds, and reduce the time span each lesson. Try changing the colour, or you can ask the students to come to the lesson with their favourite toy, book, or anything related to the topic of your lesson. You can also revise some grammar by asking your students to go to the kitchen and find 3 countable and three uncountable items. Ask the students to share why they have chosen those particular items. In class, you can apply this activity with the items in the classroom.

2) Today’s Word

Choose a word either related to the topic or not. Tell students that today’s word is ‘butterfly’, for instance. Tell your students to act like a butterfly as soon as they hear the word. If, during the lesson,  you feel that the students are starting to lose attention, out of the blue say the word out loud. You will see some students paying attention and being a butterfly, while some others trying to catch up with them. This activity may help students with lower attention spans to be more focused.

3) Add Movement

During online lessons, students sit in front of the screen and generally they do not move until the lesson is over. It is a good idea to add some movement in your virtual lessons. If you are doing an activity with multiple choice answers, for example, ask you, students, to stand up and give the answer with their body. Ask the students to raise their arms, and if they think the answer is A, they should lean to their right. If the answer is B for them, they should lean to their left. And if they think the answer is C, they can shake their shoulders. With every type of close-ended questions, for every right answer they give, they can stand up and turn around once. Adding movement in your lessons will help your students to focus more easily. You can try this in your face to face classrooms, as well. All learners benefit from being allowed to move around at regular intervals’

4) Mind Map of The Week

Before starting your lesson, especially a new unit or topic, ask your students to think of, or write, what comes to their mind when they think about the previous lesson This may be a word, a game you have played, or even a joke somebody made. Even giving the name of a character from a story you have read is a good answer. This way, with the help of each student you can create a mind map in which everybody has added something. While teaching online, you can either use a web tool like Padlet, or a big piece of paper on which you write using coloured pencils. In a classroom, you can use the board, or again a big piece of paper or cardboard.

5) Choose the Song

In both real and virtual classrooms, it is always a good idea to start or end the lesson with a song, especially with primary students. You can ask a student to choose the song they like, you can play it either at the beginning, or the end, or both. To make sure that every student takes part in this, you can nominate each student to choose the next song in alphabetical order or use a web tool like Wheel of names. Deciding the class song will give the student a sense of being part of the class. There should be a rule, and that is that the song should be in English!

Bonus

You can use an activity like attention grabbers to give the message that the task is over and you need their focus on you and the lesson. With an attention grabber, you give a cue, and the whole class respond chorally. For example, once a task is over, simply call out ‘Hocus Pocus’, and have your students respond with ‘Everybody Focus’.  Attention grabbers are always helpful in class and help you improve your classroom management. If you have not tried them for your virtual lessons, I highly recommend you add some. To add even more fun, you can whisper it, say it in an angry manner, change your voice in any way you would like. Here are some examples, and you can find more online.

Teacher

1-2-3

Holy Moly

All set

Ready to listen?

Student

Eyes on you

Guacamole

You bet!

Ready to learn

Joining a lesson and trying to focus can be very challenging for both teachers and students in this virtual learning period. Adding some activities that do not need preparation will help your students engage more in your lessons. Once you go back to the classroom, you can still try these activities to have your students engage face-to-face, too.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page for more resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

Learn at Home

 


Aysu Şimşek is a passionate advocate of continuing professional development. After graduating from Istanbul University with joint honours in American Culture and Literature with Theatre Criticism and Dramaturgy, she embarked on her own teaching career. As a teacher, Aysu had the fortune to work in supportive teaching teams and personally benefited from the valuable guidance of mentors. Now in her role with Oxford University Press, Aysu meets and supports teachers from across Turkey and is proud to be an active member of a global community of dedicated educationalists. She is a holder of a CELTA qualification, has co-written articles for Modern English Teacher magazine and TEA Online Magazine.


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Assessment Literacy – the key concepts you need to know!

student filling out a test in the classroomResearch shows that the typical teacher can spend up to a third of their professional life involved in assessment-related activities (Stiggins and Conklin, 1992), yet a lack of focus on assessment literacy in initial teacher training has left many teachers feeling less than confident in this area. In this blog, we’ll be dipping our toes into some of the key concepts of language testing. If you find this interesting, be sure to sign up for my Oxford English Assessment Professional Development assessment literacy session.

What is assessment literacy?

As with many terms in ELT, there are competing definitions for the term ‘assessment literacy’, but for this blog, we’re adopting Malone’s (2011) definition:

Assessment literacy is an understanding of the measurement basics related directly to classroom learning; language assessment literacy extends this definition to issues specific to language classrooms.

As you can imagine, language assessment literacy (LAL) is a huge area. For now, though, we’re going to limit ourselves to the key concepts encapsulated in ‘VRAIP’.

What’s VRAIP?

VRAIP is an abbreviation for Validity, Reliability, Authenticity, Impact and Practicality. These are key concepts in LAL and can be used as a handy checklist for evaluating language tests. Let’s take each one briefly in turn.

Validity

Face, concurrent, construct, content, criterion, predictive… the list of types of validity goes on, but at its core, validity refers to how well a test measures what it is setting out to measure. The different types of validity can help highlight different strengths and weaknesses of language tests, inform us of what test results say about the test taker, and allow us to see if a test is being misused. Take construct validity. This refers to the appropriateness of any inferences made based upon the test scores; the test itself is neither valid nor invalid. With that in mind, would you say the test in Figure 1 is a valid classroom progress test of grammar? What about a valid proficiency speaking test?

Figure 1

Student A

Ask your partner the questions about the magazine.

 

1.       What / magazine called?

2.       What / read about?

3.       How much?

 

 

Student B

Answer your partner with this information.

Teen Now Magazine

Download the Teen Now! app on your phone or tablet for all the latest music and fashion news.

Only £30 per year!

http://www.teennow.oup

Reliability

‘Reliability’ refers to consistency in measurement, and however valid a test, without reliability its results cannot be trusted. Yet ironically, there is a general distrust of statistics itself, reflected in the joke that “a statistician’s role is to turn an unwarranted assumption into a foregone conclusion”. This distrust is often rooted in a lack of appreciation of how statistics work, but it’s well within the average teacher’s ability to understand the key statistical concepts. And once you have mastered this appreciation, you are in a much stronger position to critically evaluate language tests.

Authenticity

The advent of Communicative Language Teaching in the 1970s saw a greater desire for ‘realism’ in the context of the ELT classroom, and since then the place of ‘authenticity’ has continued to be debated. A useful distinction to make is between ‘text’ authenticity and ‘task’ authenticity, the former concerning the ‘realness’ of spoken or written texts, the latter concerning the type of activity used in the test. Intuitively, it feels right to design tests based on ‘real’ texts, using tasks which closely mirror real-world activities the test taker might do in real life. However, as we will see in the Practicality section below, the ideal is rarely realised.

Impact

An English language qualification can open doors and unlock otherwise unrealisable futures. But the flip side is that a lack of such a qualification can play a gatekeeping role, potentially limiting opportunities. As Pennycook (2001) argues, the English language

‘has become one of the most powerful means of inclusion or exclusion from further education, employment and social positions’.

As language tests are often arbiters of English language proficiency, we need to take the potential impact of language tests seriously.

Back in the ELT classroom, a more local instance of impact is ‘washback’, which can be defined as the positive and negative effects that tests have on teaching and learning. An example of negative washback that many exam preparation course teachers will recognise is the long hours spent teaching students how to answer weird, inauthentic exam questions, hours which could more profitably be spent on actually improving the students’ English.

Take the exam question in Figure 2, for instance, which a test taker has completed. To answer it, you need to make sentence B as close in meaning as possible to sentence A by using the upper-case word. But you mustn’t change the upper-case word. And you mustn’t use more than five words. And you must remember to count contracted words as their full forms. Phew! That’s a lot to teach your students. Is this really how we want to spend our precious time with our students?

By the way, the test taker’s answer in Figure 2 didn’t get full marks. Can you see why? The solution is at the end of this blog.

Figure 2

A    I haven’t received an invite from Anna yet.

STILL

B     Anna still hasn’t sent an invite.

The cause of this type of ‘negative washback’ is typically due to test design emphasising reliability at the expense of authenticity. But before we get too critical, we need to appreciate that balancing all these elements is always an exercise in compromise, which brings us nicely to the final concept in VRAIP…

Practicality

There is always a trade-off between validity, reliability, authenticity and impact. Want a really short placement test? Then you’re probably going to have to sacrifice some construct validity. Want a digitally-delivered proficiency test? Then you’re probably going to have to sacrifice some authenticity. Compromise in language testing is inevitable, so we need to be assessment literate enough to recognise when VRAIP is sufficiently balanced for a test’s purpose. If you’d like to boost your LAL, sign up for my assessment literacy session.

If you’re a little rusty, or new to key language assessment concepts such as validity, reliability, impact, and practicality, then my assessment literacy session is the session for you:

Register for the webinar

Solution: The test taker did not get full marks because their answer was not ‘as close as possible’ to sentence A. To get full marks, they needed to write “still hasn’t sent me”.

 


References

  • Malone, M. E. (2011). Assessment literacy for language educators. CAL Digest October 2011.
  • Pennycook, A. (2001). English in the World/The World in English. In A Burns and C. Coffin (Eds), Analysing English in a Global Context: A Reader. London, Routledge
  • Stiggins, R. J, & Conklin, N. F. (1992). In teachers’ hands: Investigating the practices of classroom assessment. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Colin Finnerty is Head of Assessment Production at Oxford University Press. He has worked in language assessment at OUP for eight years, heading a team which created the Oxford Young Learner’s Placement Test and the Oxford Test of English. His interests include learner corpora, learning analytics, and adaptive technology.