Creating items (test questions) for English language assessments is a tricky business, particularly for teens. You need to ensure that the item produces an accurate and valid measurement of the skill you are trying to test while providing the best possible experience for a test taker. In this blog, we’ll look at two important considerations when writing items: context and content. If this whets your appetite, be sure to join me in my Oxford English Assessment Professional Development session where we’ll be exploring in more detail how to write good test items. Continue reading
Do you remember when you were a teenager, arguing with your parents, thinking that adults ‘just don’t get it’! It’s a typical behaviour, it’s a stage that we all go through (well, most of us anyway)!
Adolescence is the phase of life between late childhood and early adulthood. It is a time not only of physical maturation but also of mental and emotional development. The major developmental tasks of adolescence include the establishment and nurturing of intimate relationships and the development of identity, independence, self-confidence, self-control, and social skills.
The beginning of adolescence is loosely anchored to the onset of puberty, which brings alterations in hormone levels and a number of consequent physical changes. Puberty onset is also associated with profound changes in drives, motivations, psychology, and social life; these changes continue throughout adolescence. New findings in developmental psychology and neuroscience reveal that a fundamental reorganization of the brain takes place in adolescence. In postnatal brain development, the maximum density of grey matter is reached first in the primary sensorimotor cortex, and the prefrontal cortex matures last.
Subcortical brain areas, especially the limbic system and the reward system, develop earlier, so that there is an imbalance during adolescence between the more mature subcortical areas and less mature prefrontal areas. This may account for typical adolescent behaviour patterns, including risk-taking. Developmentally, adolescents also tend to be more impulsive and emotional—they are more inclined to make impulsive decisions, engage in impulsive behaviour, and act recklessly compared to adults.
Adolescence is a time of amazing creativity, intensive emotionality, social engagement but also a time of taking risky decisions and behaviour. How can we use this capacity as teachers?
Seize the opportunity
First of all, we need to see the potential of this period of life of our students and treat it as an opportunity, not a curse. As teachers, we can take advantage of teenagers’ risky mindset to help them perform better at school and achieve better results. Risk taking and selecting difficult tasks is associated with having a growth mindset. Teachers can guide this risky behaviour by encouraging pupils to take chances in a safe and secure environment, the students could face more challenges without a fear of failure. It is extremely important to provide an environment for teenagers where they feel safe to make mistakes and explore reality without being criticised.
Working with teenagers may also be difficult because many of them cannot cope with emotions and they experience teen depression or social anxiety syndrome. Sometimes it is difficult for a teacher to understand that irritable or apathetic adolescents might be experiencing depression. Teenagers easily develop feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, often they are oversensitive to their peers’ opinions and how they perceive to be perceived.
We all know that most teens may feel unhappy and withdrawn at times as their moods swing unpredictably, but if you notice that your student’s unhappiness lasts more than two weeks and he or she displays other symptoms, it is necessary to react and seek a professional help. Teens with depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behaviour. They may have no motivation to learn or do anything, difficulty with concentration and memory loss. You may also see such symptoms as apathy, difficulty with making decisions, irresponsible behaviour, sadness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and regular complaints of pains (headaches, stomach-aches), and compulsive overeating.
What can we do as teachers? Firstly be understanding, supportive, and patient. There is nothing more important for a teenager as having a supportive adult. Teachers play a vital role in this developmental period because often teenagers are more likely to listen to them than their parents who are perceived as enemies. Teachers should utilise their need for creative exploration and novelty by running interesting, engaging, and inclusive lessons; allowing students to explore and build their sense of autonomy and internal locus of control. Providing a psychological safety and inclusive climate in the classroom helps teenagers learn. Investing in positive relations with teenagers will improve learning outcomes. Remember that teenagers will not learn from teachers they dislike!
Interested in this topic? Missed November’s webinar? Click here to catch-up and watch the recording!
Alicja Gałązka is a psychologist, linguist, ICI Vice President for Coaching in Poland, trainer and international educator. Lecturer and researcher in the university setting, and in multiple private institutions. A graduate of the University of Silesia and the School of Education at the University of Exeter, UK. Alicja is also a speaker and trainer in the field of international communication, creative thinking and problem solving, the development of social and emotional intelligence and the optimization of each individual’s potential, drama etc. She is also a regular event speaker for Oxford University Press Poland!
James Styring taught English and Spanish to students of all ages and levels. He also ran teacher-training sessions and was an oral examiner for the Cambridge PET, FCE and CAE exams. James worked for ten years in editorial roles at OUP before becoming a freelance author. He has written more than 50 ELT titles. He joins us today to preview his upcoming webinar, ‘Easy, motivating and meaningful ways of using digital tech in the classroom’, taking place on August 24th and 25th.
How do ‘screenagers’ learn?
Everyone born in the last 15–20 years (AKA Generation Z) has grown up in the digital age. Tablets and smartphones are not an add-on but an essential part of daily life, something Generation Z has never lived without. Generation Z expects wifi and 4G as a basic need, the same as an expectation of running water and electricity for older generations. Trying to engage a classroom of Generation Z students doesn’t always hit the mark if a vital component of their life is missing: their digital side. ‘Screenagers’ and young adults miss the devices through which their life is mediated. Success with this generation depends on appropriating the students’ digital world and deploying it in valid ways in the classroom.
As teachers, what’s of interest to us are the character traits of Generation Z. What do we know about Generation Z and their learning style? They may have less-developed social skills than older generations, as they stumble along the pavement catching Pokémon. They like communicating in bite-sized messages and they’re masters of multi-tasking. This means they respond well to classes which involve a variety of inputs and a varied pace.
How can teachers help screenagers?
The webinar looks at how teachers can vary interaction patterns and pairings, mimicking students’ everyday communicative experience of flitting between Instagram and Twitter and WhatsApp within seconds and without missing a beat. Mimicking these patterns in class can stop itchy feet and dispel boredom. One way of achieving this is bringing classes to life digitally. Most teachers know this but many feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of ‘digital’ in TEFL. The blogosphere is alive with talk of LMSs and MOOCs and big data. ‘Digital’ can quite quickly start to feel alienating and off-putting, not to mention time-consuming and expensive to implement, as you imagine your school spending thousands on tablets or on access to a digital platform.
Well, the good news is that you don’t need any of that. There are lots of classroom activities that you can do for free and often with zero preparation utilising the phones or tablets that most students already have in their schoolbags. You can achieve meaningful outcomes from students taking out their tablets or smartphones (or even older ‘feature’ phones) and using them as a natural part of the lesson. All you need is an open mind and a little imagination. The reason for doing this is not some sort of gimmick. It’s a reaction to who we’re teaching. On average, Generation Z-ers reach for their device every seven minutes during the day to check status updates, to read messages, to post comments, and so on. There are pedagogically worthwhile reasons for having students get their phones out during class for a range of activities. So rather than battling through lessons with students feeling twitchy because they’re desperate to look at their phones, free the phone instead.
To hear more, join my webinar on 24th and 25th August. I hope you’ll also feel comfortable in sharing your own experiences of digital and contributing ideas for making it work.
Freelance teacher trainer, Olha Madylus, looks at some of the issues related to improving students’ writing skills ahead of her upcoming webinar on Solutions Writing Challenge #1: “My students keep making the same mistakes”.
Many teachers voice concerns about their students’ inability to improve their writing and learn from their mistakes. Why is it so difficult to improve? Is it the approach we take to writing? We don’t like to write in our own language so why would our students want to write in English?
There are a number of ways to help students overcome their difficulties. Students jump very quickly from producing short texts, which are often written in order to practise a particular grammar item, to writing compositions which require a lot more than simply getting the ‘grammar right’ to be successful. They need to consider how to address the composition title, come up with arguments and ideas, use rich vocabulary, structure the text appropriately and even be imaginative.
So, it’s a good idea for writing tasks to be ‘scaffolded’. This is a term we use a lot with early years’ language learning. ‘Scaffolding’ means that tasks include a lot of support so that learners aren’t overwhelmed and can be successful. Gradually the support is withdrawn as students’ ability and confidence increases. It’s like teaching a child to swim: once they are ready, you take away your hands from under their tummy and off they go alone. Within scaffolded tasks learners can still be allowed enough freedom for their imagination and creativity, which adds to motivating them to write.
Writing is a process and teachers can help their students by focussing on different parts of that process individually. Tasks can focus on various sub-skills, as teachers help their students improve the communication, the language, even the register of their writing.
Teachers can also drive their students toward success by taking a more positive approach to marking writing tasks. Getting back your homework covered in red ink and negative comments is very demoralising. Success is a key element in the classroom. If learners, particularly teens, whose egos are quick to bruise, feel they are failing at something, they tend to avoid it and rather than making more effort, make less or none at all.
We should also reflect on where students do their writing. Much is done at home, but teachers can also encourage their students to collaborate when they write. Working in pairs or small groups encourages learning writing skills to take place and not just testing these skills.
Register for Olha Madylus’s webinar ‘Solutions Writing Challenge #1: Solutions to mistakes’ on either Tuesday 24th or Thursday 26th February to explore this challenge further.
If any of the below sound familiar, then I’ll bet you’re teaching teenagers! If the thought of summer gives you a sinking feeling knowing that most of your students will be between the ages of 14 and 17, then it’s time to stop and have a rethink before the season is truly upon us.