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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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Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>

 


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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 3) – Web Tools for Writing

tablet e-book english language classroomMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the co-author of several books published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her posts, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

It never ceases to amaze me the eagerness with which young learners begin the writing process—from tracing letters to learning to write their own name or their pet’s name. At that stage, the writing world seems so exciting—and it continues like this when they start forming sentences and, later, a complete paragraph. However, maintaining that zest for writing as they grow older is a completely different dynamic. As complexity increases in their development and more demands are placed on their attention, the desire to communicate in writing begins to decrease. But it does not have to be that way. Young learners love to tell stories and their imagination seems boundless. Yet, what sometimes seems missing is that much desired audience—the very reason for writing—and the knowledge on how to transform thoughts into an engaging, coherent and cohesive text. While we cannot escape the necessity to scaffold the writing lessons (Kendall & Khuon, 2006), we can certainly make the reason to write a lot of fun for our learners through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Scaffolding our writing lessons depends on the purpose for writing (e.g., inform, keep in touch, persuade, entertain, express emotions, remind, etc.) the text type and other elements we need to consider when planning lessons. It is also useful to provide our learners with a model of the intended final product.

Because it is difficult for young learners to create content, prompts such as pictures, music, maps, real objects, short videos, or story starters can give them support as they activate prior knowledge on the topic, in addition to vocabulary and other linguistic elements they will need to complete the task. In providing a model for the final product, it is advisable to do that with a reading activity that shows the target text type and ideas about shaping content.

Two of my learners’ favorite award-winning, free, creative writing tools are Storybird and Pixton. With Storybird you can create a class and add students to it. You can also create specific assignments with a large assortment of illustrations to choose from. You and your learners can create poems, short picture stories or books. The advantage that Storybird and Pixton provide is that the image prompt can be chosen by you or your learners to begin brainstorming right on the page since it can be edited as many times as necessary. This is truly a lot of fun. Storybird and Pixton can be used with computers, tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. The final version of the short story, poem, book or comic strip can be placed in your social network site or blog, or it can even be emailed.

webtools3fig1

Figure 1: Sample Storybird picture story development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and FranBravo.

Prompts used for scaffolding, such as sentence starters or word banks, along with the large assortment of beautiful illustrations found in Storybird and Pixton can be highly motivating and engaging for your learners. And it is just as motivating for them to have a large audience, including family and friends—as opposed to only their teacher. As a matter of fact, the Storybird poem function provides a word bank along with punctuation marks for learners to drag and drop to create their poem. Of course, you have to make sure that the vocabulary is familiar to your learners and let them know that they can also use their own words.

webtools3fig2

Figure 2: Sample Storybird poem development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and novoseltsev.

In planning a creative writing lesson to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity, you can encourage your learners to write a picture story, a poem or a comic strip using Pixton— like the ones shown in the images. These activities can be collaborative. Pixton offers a user-friendly, fun way to develop comic strips. It contains a wide variety of characters to choose from and backgrounds.

webtools3fig3

Figure 3: Sample development page – Courtesy of Pixton.

I can attest from experience that when students know their work will have a large audience, they work very hard during the editing stage to develop a fine publication. I certainly hope that your learners feel as excited about these award-winning creative writing Web 2.0 tools. Remember, good writing skills are usually the outcome of diverse and constant exposure to good reading materials as well as systematic practice.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for reading activities.

 

Reference and Further Reading

Kendall, J. & Khuon, O. (2006). Best Practices. Writing Sense: Integrated Reading and Writing Lessons for English Language Learners (pp. 16–36). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.


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Webinar: Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook

Business people having discussionKeith Layfield, lead editor on the Business Result series, introduces his upcoming webinar on 17th April entitled “Making the most of the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook“.

Have you used the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook, and are you getting the most out of it? Are you interested in using online resources to provide self-study material, supplementary classroom material, or a more interactive blended learning package?

My upcoming webinar is suitable for any teacher of Business Result. I will be providing practical help and ideas for using the Online Interactive Workbook, whether for self-study, classroom material, or for blended learning.

The webinar will provide an overview of the following:

Online practice and other resources

Business Result Online Interactive Workbook is a motivating self-study item that supports and develops themes from the Student’s Book. Each unit offers a series of interactive exercises practising the main sections of each unit – Working with words, Language at work, and Business communication – which are marked automatically and added to each student’s gradebook.

The interactive exercises also develop a number of skills: email writing and extended reading, plus there are video activities and discussion forum topics to encourage free writing practice. And there are extensive student resources – unit glossaries, sample emails, class audio – plus a unit test for each unit in the Student’s Book.

In the webinar, we’ll explore how you can make the most of these features, inside and outside class.

Gradebook and communication tools

I’ll also be exploring the automatic gradebook, which gives students and teachers instant access to grades. It saves time on marking and enables teachers to quickly track progress of all students.

Each unit of the Online Interactive Workbook has its own discussion topic related to the theme of the unit. This encourages communicative and collaborative learning, as students (and teachers) are able to read and reply to discussion topics. During the webinar, we’ll look at how to get the most out of this, and we’ll also focus on the ‘chat’ functionality, which enables students and teachers to communicate outside class.

The Online Interactive Workbook also allows teachers to add, create, and manage their own content. Teachers can add their own tests, create their own discussions, assign due dates for activities to be completed, add new activities, and many other things using a number of teacher tools.

So as you can see, the Business Result Online Interactive Workbook provides teachers and students with an exciting range of resources and tools to choose from! I look forward to exploring all of this with you in more detail during the webinar.


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Edmodo: Introducing the virtual classroom

Girl on sofa with laptop and papers

Image courtesy of Alessandro Valli via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at using Edmodo as an alternative to blogs for running web-based English language courses.

In my previous post, I discussed how blogs could be used to design, deliver and manage a complete English course. However, using blogs for this purpose has a number of potential weaknesses.

First, blogging platforms don’t have in built assessment tools. Second, while the comment/reply feature of blogs does allow for some interaction between course participants, it can get a little unstructured if there are a lot of learning activities. Finally, student privacy is a concern. Fortunately, there are some free, web-based learning management systems (LMS) that help with these problems. One such LMS is Claco; however, my favourite, which I have been using for about four years, is Edmodo.

Edmodo allows teachers to set up private, online learning environments for their students. On my blog, I posted the following learning module:

Figure 1: Learning Module

Figure 1: Learning Module

If the lesson was being done in face-to-face mode, the topic could be introduced with a general discussion about recycling before starting the reading activity. This could have been done on the blog using the comment/reply feature of the blog; however, as there are a lot of learning activities, these replies may become quite disorganized. I use the different Edmodo tools to break up the learning activities and allow for more interaction between participants.

Notes and Polls

I use these to get students thinking about the theme and start a conversation. I like the fact that the students aren’t just selecting an answer for the poll but also making comments. Notes and polls (and quizzes and assignments) can either be sent to the whole class, groups or to individual students.

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Notes can also be used to give students more information, for example to introduce a grammar point.

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Students can also post if they have a question or need to discuss something.

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Quizzes

After reading and listening activities, students may need to do a comprehension quiz. The Edmodo quiz tool allows quizzes to be easily set up and offers features such as different question types, time limit, randomisation, and can be linked to the grade book.

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Assignments

After writing activities or projects, students may need to submit work for grading. The Edmodo assignment tool allows assignments to be easily set up and linked to the grade book.

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Grade Book

All assignments and quizzes can be linked to the grade book. Other nice features include the ability to award badges to students and exporting the grade book to a spreadsheet tool such as Excel. Students can also see their grades.

Figure 8: Grade Book

Figure 8: Grade Book

The above tools will help you make your online lesson more interactive. But Edmodo also has some other helpful tools. The Group tool allows you to group students into smaller working groups. Subscription and notification tools allow class participants to keep up to date with all new learning activities. The Planner tool allows you to highlight important dates and deadlines for your students. And the Library tool allows you to store and share all course related documents.

While the above examples demonstrate how Edmodo can be used in a fully online English class, I have also used it extensively with my face-to-face students. My daughter’s teacher (year 6) also uses Edmodo with her classes, but as a supplement to regular classroom learning. My daughter will go to her Edmodo class when she is at home to check for homework, deadlines and other learning materials. It allows me, as a parent, to see how she is progressing.