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A View on Reading: a Skill for Life | Gustavo Gonzalez

Why Reading?

Reading is a skill that everybody should excel at. We need to read to interact, to agree, to disagree, to make decisions, to comprehend, to understand. All in all, Reading is an invitation to savour life.

Reading sometimes goes unnoticed, because we are focused on doing something else.

Have a look at the following picture. What five words from the word cloud resonate with you and your relationship with reading?

 

Have you just realised that in order to select such words, you had to read? Basically, this is not a reading activity, but you needed to read to accomplish the task. This is what I meant before when I said that reading sometimes goes unnoticed.

Reading is such an essential part of learning, such an essential part of life! Reading is everywhere! And students need to effectively develop this skill in order to interact with life itself.

Do you have your heart set on reading? What about your students? I like to believe that when you put your heart to something, you are likely to succeed in doing it! How effective and successful are our students today when it comes to reading? These are some questions that, in my opinion, need some further consideration.

Many are the times in which they are faced with Reading activities that only cater for knowledge of syntax or how the language works, with questions that push them to “copy/paste” the answer and they feel they have comprehended the text. And when you ask them to infer meaning, they just blurt out “The answer is not in the text, teacher!” They are not used to reading critically, to analysing, evaluating, to creating something new out of a given text. As you can clearly see, I am resorting to Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning outcomes and objectives when I say this. We cannot talk about Reading without referring to Bloom’s taxonomy (see picture below). I am taking this framework only as a springboard for the so many activities we can design when it comes to reading.

Bloom concluded that 95% of test questions focus on the lowest level of his taxonomy, the recall of information. Many reading comprehension tasks consist of questions that focus only on the sheer recall of facts presented in a text. Students do not find any appeal in doing this, they get bored, they do not find meaning in the activity and they give up. Something must be done.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Outcomes and Objectives (1956)

Credit: https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2014/03/03/creativity-in-the-young-learner-classroom/blooms-revised-taxonomy/

 

So I guess it’s high time we started reconsidering whether students’ dislike of reading is because of the tasks that many teachers provide them with.

Not only should we focus on our students decoding, that is, the ability to understand letter-sound relationships, such as knowledge of letter patterns in order to pronounce written words correctly (which children grasp in their first years of schooling), but on the students’ knowledge and vocabulary that will enable them to understand a given text. Decoding in itself is not Reading. Decoding is essential for Reading. But we can only talk about Reading if Comprehension is involved.

To what extent do students enjoy reading?

I believe that the skill of Reading is the one students like the least. They usually associate reading with exercises that require them to recognise this or that, to what “it” refers to in line X, to look for the author’s intention, to find the main idea and the details that support it, to put events in order, to compare and contrast, to re-insert a line into a given paragraph, to identify words, to find cause and effect relationships, and so on and so forth. Mastering these skills makes them think they have a good comprehension of the text. But do they? Don’t get me wrong, please, I am not saying that these tasks are not necessary, but I think there are many more ideas that can be implemented to get students to find meaning in what they do when reading.

Isn’t it time we made them realise how much more they can get out of Reading and how much they can enjoy the reading itself when activities are meaningful, relevant, fun and they meet their interests?

The typical three stages of reading tasks

You know how important the three stages of a reading task are, namely pre-reading, while-reading (or through-reading) and post-reading activities. Yet, many times we spend precious time on grammar or vocabulary tasks, which aren’t true comprehension activities. Students are presented with meaningless activities that should be engaging and go beyond some of the conventional tasks mentioned some paragraphs above.

Well-thought-of and carefully-planned activities that are engaging and meaningful can make all the difference when it comes to making reading a skill that students will crave for.

The Art of Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Meaning

I like to think of Reading as a complex and active process of constructing and even deconstructing and reconstructing meaning. That meaning will be constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in three possible ways:

  • In an interactive way — involving the reader as well as the text and the context in which reading takes place.
  • In a strategic way — readers have purposes for their reading and use a variety of strategies and skills as they construct meaning.
  • In an adaptable way — readers change the strategies they use as they read different kinds of text or as they read for different purposes.

Should you be interested in reading more about what Cognitive Science Research tells us about Reading Comprehension and Reading Instruction, you will find a very comprehensive article you may find interesting at www.readingrockets.org (see full link to the article at the end of this article).

What I care most is that during that meaning-construction/deconstruction/reconstruction phase, students are able to find joy in what they are doing and they have fun at the same time.

Reading for Life

Reading is a skill that will stay forever with us. We should instil the love of reading in our students. They need to stop seeing it as a boring task only to do exercises or to pass tests, but as a skill that will accompany them and will make them informed and assertive human beings for life.

Register for my upcoming webinar! 

In my webinar I’ll explore these themes further, and will share some real-world activities that I use with my students.

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Gustavo González is an English teacher from Argentina, he’s been in the ELT field since 1993, working as a teacher, school coordinator, teacher trainer and presenter. He has been delivering seminars and workshops all over Argentina, South, Central and North America, China, Singapore and Spain. He is one of the contributors to the book “Imagination, Cognition & Language Acquisition: A Unified Approach to Theory and Practice”, published by the New Jersey City University and has also written some articles for OUP (Oxford University Press), IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and other institutions. He is a teacher trainer for the Oxford Teachers’ Academy (OTA), freelance PD trainer for Oxford University Press, Trinity College London and Buenos Aires Players, an educational theatre company. He is a former vice president of APIBA, the Buenos Aires English Teachers’ Association and former vice president of FAAPI, the Argentine Federation of English Teachers’ Associations.


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Making teaching personal | How to bring client-led content into your teaching

Developing critical thinking in ESL

Teaching a group of business English students first thing on a Monday morning – short of going for a jog in sub-zero temperatures – is one of the surest ways I know of having to get out of bed and get into the swing of things snappily! I can’t say I look forward to the ordeal, but I can say that I don’t think I can remember a class which disappointed, and after which I didn’t feel energised. But perhaps I’m lucky.

However, when Kata asked me, as she always did, about my weekend on a particular Monday back in June, I really didn’t know what to say.

I’d had a nightmare of a time, spending most of it in a whirlwind filling in forms at a police station. It didn’t seem right to relate such personal issues to my students. But I knew her and the group well, and in any case, telling them would make a change from, “Great, thanks – yeah, we went hiking; I met a friend for coffee, and you?” etc. So I decided to tell them that on the Friday evening I’d had my briefcase with amongst other things my passport stolen. I told them how annoyed I was, and they were all ears!

Of course! It was only with hindsight that it dawned on me what a golden opportunity this was, and how much I could exploit it. After all, this was my upper intermediate insurance class; without hesitation, they started firing questions at me about the contents of my bag, the value of the items in question, exactly what had happened, whether I was insured, and so on. They then insisted on helping me fill in the claim form so as to get the best deal possible. I couldn’t have broken this news to a more sympathetic or expert group: They gave me insights into the industry I’d have never known otherwise! ‘In return’, we worked on form-filling, question forms, formal insurance language vs. everyday spoken English, the passive, and much more besides. My longer-term course plan was ditched for a few weeks, but during these weeks, attendance rose, and engagement and involvement was higher than it had ever been.

While I don’t intentionally generate major personal events to exploit in class, it’s surprising how, with a bit of thought, we can in some way or other gain a better understanding of what our students do through bringing our own or a friends’ experiences to class (have a think!).

With my insurance group, I found myself drawing on students’ expertise, and focusing on language relevant for them so as to reach a win-win situation. Although I ‘took’ the story to class, input over the next two or three weeks was based on the language they needed in order, in part, to be able to offer me professional advice.


Rachel Appleby has taught English for International House and the British Council in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, and Hungary, where she now lives. She focuses mostly on teaching English to adults, in-company students and, more recently, to University students. Rachel works part-time at ELTE University in Budapest on the BA and MA programmes. She is also a Teacher trainer specifically for Business English, but also a CELTA trainer, and British Council EMI trainer.

Rachel has also authored/co-authored a number of English Language Teaching titles with Oxford University Press, including Business one:one, and International Express,


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Flipped Classroom Approach | What is all the fuss about?

Flipped Classroom Approach

The Flipped Classroom Approach, what’s all the fuss about?

Many educators are familiar with the notion of a ‘Flipped Classroom Approach’: The Flipped Model has been adopted across a wide range of educational contexts, and English Language Teaching is no different.

So, what is it? Simply, it’s an approach that involves the reorganisation of what happens in class time and outside of class time. The traditional notion of classroom-based learning is turned on its head: One commonly-quoted definition is that homework becomes schoolwork, and schoolwork becomes homework.

In a conventional classroom, content delivery happens during the class, when learners are expected to acquire knowledge in the classroom with (from) their teacher. The time left for practice activities, assimilation and the application of new knowledge is squeezed, which means that learners are often left to do these activities as ‘follow up’ for homework by themselves – without the support of their teacher and peers.

The Flipped Classroom Approach tries to overcome these problems. It’s strongly associated with blended learning, and one basic way to flip your classroom involves putting content onto online videos (for example using screencasts), which students are invited to work through before they attend your classroom session. Proponents of the Flipped Classroom Approach argue that by inverting what happens in the classroom, in-class time can now focus on active learning and student-centred strategies, such as discussions and task-based learning, leading to an improvement in student engagement, motivation, attendance and performance.

Thus in the Flipped Classroom model, students are able to access content in their own time, at their own pace, reviewing it as many times as necessary before they come to class, armed with their own questions and ready to put their new learning into practice.

It’s clear to see that a key purpose of the flipped approach is to move students away from a passive learning experience towards active learning, with all the associated collaboration and peer learning that goes with it, coupled with a similar move away from a teacher-centred approach towards a more facilitative role.

We could argue that this is just good teaching. I’m a big fan of active learning. I’ve been involved in English language teaching since the 1990s, and even way back then, when I first set foot in the classroom, I knew that those learners who came to class having done some work in advance (“pre-reading”, anyone?), those who were happy to work collaboratively, and those that took ownership of their learning were far more likely to succeed than those that needed spoon-feeding. Surely we’ve come a long way across all educational sectors, in our move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’.

Nonetheless, an increasing number case studies are emerging where flipped learning as a pedagogy is being evaluated more rigorously, and it’s clear that increasing numbers of teachers are adopting (at least some of) the practices associated with the Flipped Classroom Approach. It also becomes ever easier to create, store and share online content and blended learning is a widely accepted teaching model in itself.


Angela Buckingham is an Academic Developer working in Higher Education in the UK with over twenty five years of experience in ELT as a classroom teacher, teacher trainer, and writer. Courses for OUP include the best selling Passport series for Japan, the third edition of Business Venture, level 5 and level 6 of Oxford Discover Grammar (primary) and the Beginner and Elementary levels of new edition International Express. Angela has an MA in TEFL.


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A Framework for Communicative Speaking

shutterstock_297003296Tony Prince is a NILE trainer and has been Programme Manager for Presessional and Insessional courses at the University of East Anglia. Today he joins us to preview his upcoming webinar, A Framework for Communicative Speaking, and discuss clear communicative speaking for ELLs. 

Opening digression – Problems and solutions

Often what we see as a problem in the environment, actually has its roots in ourselves.

‘I keep getting interrupted when I’m trying to work.’

Well maybe that’s because you’re afraid to say no when someone asks you for help, or to challenge an ‘urgent’ email that threatens to take hours out of your planned schedule.

Before you protest – explaining how ‘I really don’t understand your context’ – recognise that the beauty of you being the problem (and by you I mean we, including me), is that you are the solution as well.

You may not have control of your options, but you do have the power to choose. There is always a choice, no matter how limited.

To the point – Taking control

What does this have to do with Speaking?

Frequently when students express frustration with their speaking, they frame it as a problem with the environment.

‘People don’t give me time to think.’

‘My classmates don’t let me speak, they just talk.’

Some re-frame this as a problem with themselves:

‘I can’t think quickly enough.’

‘I don’t feel good interrupting other people.’

But few have the insight to see themselves as the cause and the solution:

‘I need to find ways to give myself extra time to think. I wonder what phrases I could use? Should I use gesture more? Maybe it’s my expression. Perhaps I need to make it more clear that I’m thinking.’

‘What is it about me that finds it so uncomfortable to interrupt others. Are there any methods that I could use which would feel easier for me?’

Most frequently, in conversations with students about issues they’re having with their studies, I have to try and get them to understand themselves better: to take more control over what they do and how they do it.

Me: ‘It seems to me, watching the conversations, that you’re happier listening. You don’t show any signs of frustration. You sit back from what’s being said.’

Student: ‘Really?’

Me: ‘That’s how it seems.’

Student: ‘Oh. So what should I do?’

Me: ‘Well why do you think you do that?’

Student: ‘I don’t know.’

Me: ‘Well I’d say that’s what you need to find out.’

Or with a lower level student

Me: ‘You watch people speak.’

Student: ‘Yes?’

Me: ‘Why?’

Student: ‘I think slow.’

Me: ‘Why no sound?’

Student: ‘Sound?’

Me: ‘Next time, watch other people. Listen! Tell me what sound. Also think. Why no sound you?’

This is a difficult approach – for both teachers and students to take. But one of the ‘Elephants in the room’ when it comes to communicative teaching, is that what we are encouraging is intensely personal. The issues that students have with communication are often rooted in their own character. Yet much though we may know our students as individuals few teachers are willing to ask students to reflect more about what it is about themselves that is preventing them from communicating, and to suggest that such reflection is at the heart of improvement.

The webinar

You may be wondering – finally – what this has to do with the webinar that I’m going to be conducting – ‘A Framework for Communicative Speaking’.

During this webinar I’m not going to be suggesting that teachers become psychologists, or even coaches – that’s for another blog post, and webinar.

The objective here is to set out a framework that can provide students with more choice in how carry out the speaking tasks in class. The framework organizes functional language around Bloom’s taxonomy, allowing students (and teachers) to vary the cognitive demands of the speaking they do.

The intention is to provide a resource that encourages student reflection on their speaking problems by providing them with more choice as to how they (and the teacher) structure a speaking task.

Reflection + choice (on how to respond to reflection) = improvement.

If you’d like to attend this free webinar with Tony, please click on the register button below.

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Assessment in the mixed-ability classroom

Student looking confused

Erika Osvath is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer. She joins us on the blog ahead of her webinar ‘Mixed-ability teaching: Assessment and feedback’, to preview the session and topics she will explore.

One of greatest challenges facing teachers of mixed-ability classes is assessment, especially in contexts where uniformly administered tests and giving grades are part of the requirements of the educational system.

These forms of assessment, however, tend to lead to unfair results. They are like holding a running event where participants set off from a different spot on the track. Naturally, in each case the distance covered and the rate of progress will depend on individual abilities. It is easy to imagine that there may be several students who cover the same distance within the given period of time, putting in the same amount of effort, but will be awarded with different grades for their performance. This can be extremely disheartening to them and may easily result in lack of motivation to learn.

Also, students tend to interpret their grades competitively, comparing their own performance to the others in the group, which, again, leads to anxiety and low self-esteem, becoming an obstacle to further improvement. The gap between learners, therefore, is very likely to increase, making learning and teaching ever more difficult.

We, teachers, are therefore challenged to find different forms of assessment within this framework, where all students achieve the best they can without feeling penalized, but continue to remain motivated and invested in their learning.

Self-assessment and continuous assessment are crucial in the mixed-ability classroom as they

  • give learners the opportunity to reflect on their individual results,
  • give learners information on what they need to improve in in smaller and manageable chunks
  • help learners draw up action plans that suit their language level and learning preferences
  • inform the teacher about their teaching and about their individual students.

Let’s look at a few practical examples.

My own test
Students write one test question for themselves at the end of every lesson based on what they have studied. You may need to give students a few examples of such questions initially. At the end of the term students are invited to sit down with the teacher to look back at all these questions and use them as the basis for checking and discussing their progress. Alternatively, depending on the age and the type of students in your class, they can be paired up to do the same thing. With this technique it is interesting that learning takes place when the question is written, not when it is answered.

A practical way of providing students with the opportunity to go through the same test at their own pace and have time to reflect and re-learn is the Test-box technique.

Test-box
Make several copies of the end-of-unit tests and cut them up, so that each exercise is on a separate piece of paper. Place them in the test box (make sure it is a nice-looking one to make it more appealing!) and keep it in the classroom. Allocate “test-box times” regularly, say, every second week for half an hour, when students have the chance to do the tasks they choose from the box. It is important to inform students of the minimum amount of exercises they have to complete by a given date.

How to use the Test-box
1. Students choose one exercise from the box.
2. They write their answers in their notebook, not on the paper.
3. As soon as they finish, they go up to the teacher, who marks their answers.
4. If all the answers are correct, they are given full credit for it and it is noted down by the teacher. In this case they choose a second exercise.
5. If there are mistakes, the student goes back, trying to self-correct using their notes or books, or they can decide to choose a different exercise from the test box.

The great thing about this technique is that although I tell students the minimum requirement for a top grade, they become less grade oriented and start to compete in learning rather than for grades.

Of course, there are many more advantages to it, which we are going to discuss in our webinar as well as look at further practical ways of assessment and how to best combine them in the mixed-ability classroom.

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