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Blended learning: what is it and when should you use it?

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is both flexible and dynamic. By ‘flexible’, I mean it is not just one thing (a fixed combination of X and Y) but rather, it can be many things depending on your teaching context. By ‘dynamic’, I mean that the components which make up blended learning are constantly changing. A recent incarnation of blended learning, for example, involves students donning headsets and practising a talk in VR (Virtual Reality) in preparation for giving a presentation in real life.

The classic definition of blended learning combines teaching in a ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom with web-based learning. The latter is usually ‘online’ but could be ‘offline’ and might not even involve the Internet at all, such as doing exercises on a CD-ROM or using a ‘native’ app – an app which ‘lives’ in your mobile phone and does not require a Wi-Fi connection to function.

Another approach to blended learning involves blending the use of print and digital resources, effectively combining the traditional and the new, analogue and digital.

 

When should teachers use blended learning?

In a very narrow definition of blended learning (such as face-to-face plus online) the answer to this question is: when studying online is a realistic, feasible option. In a broader definition of blended learning, such as that described by Sharma and Barrett ‘face-to-face plus an appropriate use of technology’ (Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Blended Learning, Macmillan, 2007), the answer is: ‘All the time!’ In other words, teaching in this new digital age should use the technologies which students meet in their everyday lives, such as the Internet, laptop, smartphone and tablet.

 

Why blend?

There are many reasons why teachers decide to run a blended learning course, as opposed to (say) a 100% classroom course like those I ran when I first started teaching, or a 100% online course.

One is time. There’s simply not enough time in a course to cover everything. Moreover, some language areas are really suited to be studied outside the classroom. Extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes, for instance.

Combining the best of the classroom (live interaction with the teacher and classmates) and the best of technology (anytime, anywhere guided practice) in a principled way can produce a ‘better’ course for students. In other words, the best of both worlds.

 

What is the value of blended learning?

Flexibility is one advantage. Students taking a blended learning course are frequently offered choices. We all know a class of 12 comprises 12 individuals, displaying different learning preferences. Students can match their path through the material to suit their own learning style and approach.
Similarly, from the teacher’s point of view, blended learning enables the implementation of ‘differentiation’.

We are all familiar with the restrictions imposed by the teaching timetable. The English language lesson is at 16.00 on Thursday. Yet this is the age of u-learning, ubiquitous learning. The distant part of a blended learning course can be done anywhere, anytime – in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, at the airport, in a hotel … , this ‘best of both worlds’ (the classroom and online) is a key feature and benefit of blended learning.

 

Different approaches to blended learning

The approaches taken to blended learning are as many and varied as the different types of teaching: YL (young learners), business English, CLIL (content and language integrated learning). One common approach would be to issue the students with a printed coursebook and have them use the code on the inside to access their online digital materials. I focus particularly on this approach in my series of articles on running a blended learning course.

 

Different types of digital activities

Here’s a snapshot of the vast range of tools available for blended learning:

 

  • a vocabulary memory game on an app to review new language
  • a podcast; students can listen as many times as they wish, using the pause and the slider to listen intensively to selected parts
  • a video, with on-demand sub-titles or a transcript
  • a discussion forum; students answer a question before their in-class lesson. The additional time helps develop critical thinking skills and contrasts the real-time pressure to reply in the classroom

 

How to run a blended learning course

Looking for some practical advice and tips on running a blended learning course? Read my series of articles to help you prepare, set-up and run blended learning:

 

References

Blended Learning, Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett (Macmillan, 2007)

 


 

Pete Sharma is a teacher trainer, consultant and ELT author. He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete worked for many years in business English as a teacher trainer and materials writer. He is a regular conference presenter at IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group) conferences and has given plenary talks and keynote speeches at conferences around the world. Pete is the co-author of several books on technology including Blended Learning (2007), 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards (2011) in the Macmillan ‘Books for Teachers’ series, and How to Write for Digital Media (2014), and most recently Best Practices for Blended Learning. Pete was the Newsletter Editor of the IATEFL CALL Review (2008-2009) and has a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT from Manchester University.


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Creating a reading environment | Using readers in the classroom with adults

We all know why our students should read. Ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that reading builds vocabulary, improves grammar, improves writing skills, and develops critical thinking skills. Readers will tell you that they read because it gives them knowledge, helps them sleep, enhances the imagination, provides entertainment, or takes them ‘away from it all’ when they are feeling stressed.

But reading in a foreign language can feel like work. Tethered to the dictionary, learners often don’t get the same satisfaction from reading in a foreign language that they do in their first language. I recently experienced this myself. Wanting to ‘brush up on my French’, I bought a novel that looked promising. However, after 2 pages I gave up. Why? There were too many unknown words and expressions. It was a chore, not a pleasure.

So, how can we encourage our adult students to read?

1. Ensure they choose the right reading level. Graded readers are ideal for students learning English because they can choose the right level for comfortable reading. A quick way to assess reading level is to read a page from a book. There should be no more than 2-3 unknown words on the page, and students should be able to read steadily and with understanding. Students can also find out their level with this interactive level test. Once they have their level, they can choose a book that interests them out of the many available.

2. Create space for reading and discussion in class. Adult students have busy lives outside of class, so if you are serious about getting them reading, carve out reading time into every lesson. First, put students into groups to discuss what they are reading. Each student gives a short summary of what the book is about and how they like it so far. Next, give students 5-10 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted reading time. Without interfering or adding any pressure, quietly observe the reading behaviour of the students – if they are glued to the dictionary, suggest a lower level reader for this part of your lessons. You may find that students enjoy the quiet reading bit of the lesson the most!

3. Make reading a social experience. Building social relationships is a motivational driver, and many people enjoy talking about what they’ve read, so integrate this into the classroom with reading circles. Put students into groups and ask them to choose one graded reader that they will all read. Assign different roles to each student: discussion leader, summarizer, connector, word master, passage person, and culture collector. You can find out more about these roles in my webinar, or go to the teaching resources site at the Oxford Bookworms Club.

4. Find ways to link books to the outside world. In Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes takes on a very strange case with links to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. As a project, students can learn more about these and other islands – connecting fiction with fact. For non-fiction lovers, there are plenty of graded non-fiction books that are informational and educational. One example is the Factfile about Stephen Hawking. You may know that between 1979 and 2009, Hawkins was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, can you name three other well-known scientists who held this role (answers in the webinar!)?

5. Create low-stakes competition. A little competition can add a game-like element to lessons, bring students satisfaction from seeing their progress charted, and create a sense that students are part of a reading community. Set each student a 6-book challenge. To complete the challenge, they read a book and write a review – complete with a star-rating system. A review can be structured for any level:

Create a class chart or leader board to record how many books each student has read. Give students certificates once they have reached 6 books. Of course, students can read each other’s reviews to help them decide which book to read next!

If you are using e-books from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf, ask students to share their reading diary which not only tracks which book they have read, but also how many words they have read and time spent reading – this can give them quite a buzz when they see how a little reading over time can add up – imagine reaching 5,000 words read!

There are many more ways to foster reading. Join me in my webinar where I’ll present these and other ideas for using readers in the classroom with adults. Come a few minutes early and share what you are reading with others in the chat box!


Stacey Hughes is a part-time lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and also works freelance as a teacher developer, materials writer and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts. She also taught French and Spanish. As a teacher developer, she enjoys engaging with teachers from all over the world. She has recently run an introduction to teacher training course for the Oxford Department of Education Summer School.


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Motivating adults with truly adult content

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Rachael Roberts has been an ELT teacher, trainer and writer for over 20 years, with experience in both the private and public sectors, in the UK and abroad. Her publications include General English coursebooks for adults and upper secondary, as well as coursebooks for IELTS. 

Some adult learners of English, especially in more advanced classes, are incredibly highly motivated, with a strong love of learning.  However, perhaps the majority of adult learners find motivation a bit more of a struggle. They have busy lives and a range of other commitments, and they may lack confidence in their ability to learn a new language to any degree of proficiency.

An adult approach to learning

Our approach to adult learners needs to be quite different from teaching younger learners, and even teenagers. The term ‘andragogy’, popularised by Malcolm Knowles in the early 70s, provides a contrast to ‘pedagogy’, which comes from the Greek words ‘paed’, meaning ‘child’ (as in paediatrics), and ‘agogus’ meaning ‘leader of’.  According to Knowles, one of the key ways in which andragogy should be different from pedagogy is that it should take account of the greater life experience of adults.

Adults may have experience of work, relationships, children, different cultures, and of difficulties and challenges that younger students have yet to encounter.

Materials aimed at the ‘young adult’ market will often avoid such topics but, as Knowles says, while ‘to children experience is something that happens to them, to adults, experience is who they are.’

He goes on to say that ‘The implication of this fact is that in any situation in which the participants’ experiences are ignored or devalued, adults will perceive this as rejecting not only their experience, but themselves as persons.’ (Knowles, Holton and Swanson 2015:45)

Choosing the right material

Adults will be motivated by material which allows them to use their greater life experience. A truly adult course should provide an opportunity to explore topics which might not be appropriate or engaging for younger learners. For example, in Navigate B2:

Lesson 6.2 looks at new trends in living, such as one person households and co-housing, where resources and facilities are shared with neighbours.

Lesson 7.2 looks at work-life balance and the recent decision by some companies to ban emails outside of working hours and lesson

Lesson 12.1 looks at the question of family size, considering how many children is optimum, including the option of not having any.

Engage through experience

However, not all the topics we deal with in the classroom need to be adult specific. The key thing is to ensure that we engage adults by making their own experiences a central part of the lesson. This doesn’t mean that we can’t deal with something new to them. For example, another lesson in Navigate B2 is built around an interview with Amna, originally from Pakistan, now living in Norway, where it can be light for 24 hours in summer and dark for 24 hours in the winter.  Students may not have actually experienced this phenomenon, but they will have enough life experience to imagine what it would be like, and to answer questions such as ‘If you moved to another country would you prefer to live somewhere very different to your home country or quite similar? Why?’

While teenagers may dislike too much personalisation, feeling unwilling to share too much in case of ridicule by peers, adults generally value the opportunity, provided that we give them options. For example, a set of sentences where students have to fill in the gaps with vocabulary can be personalised if we ask students to choose 3 of the sentences (so they can avoid anything uncomfortable) and change them so they are true for them.

A class of ten year olds are likely to have had quite broadly similar life experiences (unless, of course, some have been refugees or experienced other major challenges). A group of adults is likely to have a much greater range of individual differences.  This is challenging, because it means the need for individualisation is even greater, but it also provides a wonderful opportunity for students to communicate about something real.  I have never forgotten a class on the topic of extreme sport, where one class member suddenly told the class about his experience of playing Russian Roulette.  No-one even noticed the bell for end of class.

Every learner comes to class with a lifetime of experience, but for a group of adult learners that experience is likely to be particularly full and wide ranging. So let’s use it.


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25 ideas for using audio scripts in the ELT classroom

shutterstock_381582928Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.  Today he joins us to provide 25 engaging and useful classroom activities for language learners using audio scripts.

Many ELT student books come with audio scripts at the back. However, these are sometimes not exploited to the full. Here are 25 ideas for how to make better use of this resource. There are suggestions for using the audio script before listening to the audio, while listening to the audio and after listening to the audio.

Before listening to the audio for the first time:

beforeaudio

While listening to audio for the first time:

whileaudio

After listening to the audio:

afteraudioafteraudio2after3

 


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How can I motivate unmotivated students?

IGS-00181940-001Ken Wilson is the author of Smart Choice and in all has written more than 30 ELT titles. We asked teachers from around the world who have been using Smart Choice what one question they would like to ask Ken. He will answer three of these questions in a series of video blogs this month.

For both teachers and students, a very large class can be difficult in terms of motivation and in terms of multi-level instruction. In this video blog Ken will answer two questions to overcome these challenges: “How can I motivate unmotivated students?” and “how can we adapt Smart Choice for different class sizes and classes with students of varying levels?”

Ken suggests techniques to increase student curiosity in class in order to engage learners with simple tasks, such as reading a text. He explains how teachers can devolve student responsibility to empower higher-level students to help other students.

 

 

References:

Wilson, Ken (2012). Motivating the unmotivated.

Oxford University Press (2016). Smart Choice Third Edition.