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Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction

TabletsWith over 30 years of experience as a teacher and teacher trainer, Veríssimo Toste looks at how the role of a teacher is changing, ahead of his webinar on using Messages, Discussions and Chats to increase student interaction.

Today’s students are not limited to learning English in the classroom only. Through the use of technology, learning English has become 24/7 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this environment, what is the teacher’s role in helping their students learn? More importantly, how can technology help teachers to help their students learn better? Using messages, discussions, and chats as an integral part of their classes, is one way. Through the use of these simple features, teachers can address questions of mixed ability, customised learning and teaching, personalisation, as well as simply being able to increase contact time with the language, beyond the classroom.

Using “Messages” provides teachers with a simple means to contact their students, as well as for students to be in contact with their teacher. In this way, teachers can follow up in individual needs, without taking up valuable class time. Students can ask questions or raise doubts without the pressure of time and classmates that can be a part of the lesson. In using “Messages” teachers and students can more easily focus on their communication, as these appear within the learning management system (LMS) and so are not confused with general, personal e-mails.

“Discussions” gives teachers and students a forum in which they can continue discussing a specific topic raised in class. Students can exchange their opinions with each other over a period of time. They can participate when it is more convenient to them. They have time to consider their responses. Discussions can range from topics raised in class, to language points based on specific grammar or vocabulary, or how to prepare for a test. The options are limitless. The key is that through the use of discussions online, students can increase their contact time with English.

Whereas discussions can take place over a specific period of time, with students participating at their convenience, chats are an opportunity for the teacher to get everyone together at the same time, although not necessarily in the same place. Seeing that the class had difficulty with a specific topic or language point, the teacher can set up a chat in which the students participate online. Students have an opportunity to follow up on the topic on their own, thus preparing before the actual chat takes place.

By basing the use of messages, discussions, and chats on work done in the classroom, the teacher can provide students with a platform to expand their learning. To find out more about practical classroom activities to achieve this, join me on the 6th or 8th of October 2015 for my webinar, “Messages, Discussions and Chats: Increasing Student Interaction”.

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Using e-books to enhance the learning experience for your students

webinarpic Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, looks at how using e-books can enhance the learning experience for your students.

As e-books become more popular, you may find yourself asking what all the hype is about. After all, an e-book is just a book on a screen, right?

Not anymore. While early e-books just replicated the print book, today’s e-books have enhanced features.  Video and audio plays straight from the page, and some e-books let students slow down the audio, record their own version, and compare to the original.  Students can answer questions, and then check if they’ve got the answers right straight away with automatic marking.  They can create written or voice recorded notes, draw on the page, and highlight words they might be struggling to pronounce so they can go back later to practice them. And if you set your students a page to complete for homework, once they’ve finished the student can email the page to you for marking.

All these interactive features are great, but pose a challenge for teachers who are new to e-books. How do you teach with an e-book?  How do you manage the class?  How do you balance the activities in class to include pair and group work alongside the e-book?

In my webinar I talk about different types of e-book and how you can start using them. I highlight common interactive features and tools and give practical ideas on how to exploit these for learning. I also give tips for how to effectively manage the use of e-books in a class.

e-Books have been shown to increase student motivation and their popularity is on the rise, so now is a great time to see what they’re all about and whether they’re right for you and your classes.

Watch my webinar recording entitled ‘Using e-books in class: practical tips and ideas’.


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Peer Interaction in Foreign Language Settings

Two friends having a conversationDr Jenefer Philp is a senior lecturer at Lancaster University, and Director of Studies of the MA  in Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching. She is interested in what research on second language acquisition has to say for the classroom. She has recently published two books related to the topic of peer interaction: Focus on Oral Interaction, with Rhonda Oliver and Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning, with Rebecca Adams and Noriko Iwashita. Today, she joins us ahead of her upcoming webinar, Peer Interaction in Foreign Language Settings.

In many language classrooms pair and group work between learners is common. In other settings, especially where numbers are high and seating is fixed, students can spend relatively little or no time learning from their peers: most of the discourse is between the teacher and the whole class. I suggest that in most classrooms peer interaction and teacher-led interaction can be complementary: learners benefit from both, and in different ways.

In this session we will focus on the potential benefits and problems of peers working together in foreign language learning classrooms.

  • How useful is it for learners to work together?
  • Should we try to use pair and group work, or is it a waste of time?
  • What is the role of the teacher?

I will discuss with you some of the research on peer interaction that has been carried out in foreign language classrooms among children, adolescents and adults. We will look at the potential benefits and discuss some of the challenges of peer interaction. By working out what students can gain through talking with one another, and how this complements the work of teachers, we can think about the strengths of peer interaction and how to make the most of peer activities in our classrooms.

Whether you are a teacher, researcher, or student yourself, I hope you’ll bring your stories of your own experiences, concerns and successes to share with us – through a combination of lecture and discussion,  we’ll wrestle with the best ways to use peer interaction in your various classes, and ways to avoid common problems.

Topics we’ll cover:

  • What do we mean by “peer interaction”?
  • What types of peer interaction are there?
  • How can peer interaction support learning?
  • What about correcting errors?
  • What about large classes – the noise, the space, the time?
  • What does really useful peer interaction look like, and how can we get there?

 

For more on this topic do join Jenefer’s webinar, Peer Interaction in the Foreign Language Classroom,which will be held on the 24th and 25th of June. Register to join below.

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Coming of Age as a Teacher

Teacher in classroomAnna Parisi is course tutor and materials designer for teacher development courses at ACCESS, in Greece. Anna has extensive experience in syllabus design and producing supplementary materials for private language institutions in Greece. Ahead of her webinars on 27th and 28th January, she gives us a preview of what she will be talking about…

I envy new teachers!

When you are a new teacher, everything you do is new. While ‘learning the ropes’, you constantly take risks and experiment, evaluate and take decisions. There are so many surprises: your students surprise you, you surprise yourself. It can be highly stressful but exciting because it’s an on-going process of observation and discovery.

We call this ‘enthusiasm’.

And then, routine starts settling in. We know we have to cover the curriculum no matter what, finish the book, and after so much trial and error we know what works best ( well, most of the time) so why take risks?  We change our routines when something goes seriously wrong or when we are bored out of our wits.

We call this ‘experience’.

Occasionally, both enthusiastic new teachers and experienced old-hands attend conferences, listen to experts and take notes. Later, we may use 1 or 2 ideas in class but generally we find ’there is no time’, ‘you can’t do this in the real world’ as real students often respond in a different way to what we want them to.

We also share fabulous ideas and photographs on the social media; we follow gurus and mentors online in search of general truths and successful practices. But still most of our issues in the classroom remain unresolved, and out of date or over-demanding curricula remain in place.

In the meantime, there is so much that goes unacknowledged, devalued or ignored: teachers’ tacit knowledge, the knowledge that teachers have acquired through the years but find it difficult to articulate or transmit.

While PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) have helped in this respect with sharing lots of ideas, thoughts and insights, teaching lives as depicted online have left a lot feeling they are missing out on developments or even with undeserved feelings of inadequacy. This wealth of ideas from teachers, trainers, authors is a host of wonderful recipes but not a better diet overall.

The gap between theory and practice remains as large as ever, published material sometimes seems to come from a parallel universe, and although everything takes place for the good of students, they are not part of the decision making and are not even asked what they think some or most of the time.

For teachers to take control and have greater professional responsibility over what we do, small scale teacher-led research is the next step in teacher development.

Why research?

Research is by definition questioning, challenging preconceptions, discovering, experimenting. Teacher-led research is action taking place where the action is: in the EFL classroom. If we, teachers, would like to see change and improvement then we are the best placed to initiate and undertake it. If we want greater autonomy, we will have to seek and welcome greater responsibility.

If we believe that we, teachers, should be involved in curricula change then we ‘need to take a critical and experimental approach to our classrooms’ (Nunan 1989). Solutions to practical problems in the classroom can rarely be imported from outside the classroom. It’s the teacher who is best placed to investigate and resolve issues by taking some course of action.  By researching our own classes we can better understand our own classroom procedures. We can become better able to assess what actually happens in the classroom as opposed to our own assumptions about what happens.  Teacher-led, classroom based research also means consulting our students, understanding and catering for their differences.

But what does teacher-led classroom based research involve?

Carrying out research should be a collective project, not a solitary task.  It’s really about discovering, sharing and transmitting knowledge, problem-solving. It’s an integral part of teacher development. Carrying out such a project can be a collective experience inclusive of all teachers in all stages of professional development. Teachers being part of this experience is the heart of a collective, teacher-led research project.

In the upcoming webinar, we’ll look at some of the basics of teacher-led classroom based research and how it can transform our teaching lives. You’ll be surprised! You can register for the webinar here.

References

Nunan, D.  and Bailey, K.M. 2008 . Exploring Second Language Classroom Research : A Comprehensive Guide. Boston: Heinle

Nunan, D. 1989. Understanding Language Classrooms . Cambridge : Prentice Hall International


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Authenticity and autonomy – for learners and teachers

young asian teenagerKeith Morrow, an ELT consultant and trainer, reflects on how ‘authentic’ activities can provide an effective learning and teaching experience in the ELT classroom, ahead of his webinar on the subject. 

Two buzz words in one title. Not bad! How authentic are you feeling today? Will the real you be going into class to do real things? And are you feeling autonomous? A free spirit or a cog in the machine?

For a long time we have thought about ‘authenticity’ mainly in terms of materials. Let’s use real material from the real world in class. Down with stilted dialogues about John and Mary, up with real texts from magazines – or of course from the Internet. They are bound to be more interesting, because they are real. Umm, well – are they? Last weekend I got a notice from the tax authorities reminding me that I owe them some money. This was pretty boring even for me, but for a learner of English in a classroom anywhere in the world, being made to read my tax demand would be absolutely deadly. It has no connection to their world, and so they how could they engage with it? To use a distinction that Henry Widdowson made nearly 40 years ago, the text is ‘genuine’ – but the only person in the world for whom it is ‘authentic’ is me.

I think that finding ways to make activities ‘authentic’ for learners is at the heart of good teaching. But what does this involve? How can we do it?

Comments and suggestions are welcome. I’ll be exploring this and making some suggestions in the webinar I am leading next week on Tuesday 15th July and on Wednesday 16th July, so please come and join in.

And while you are at it, what about ‘autonomy’? What can we do in the classroom to help learners to take charge of their own learning? And equally intriguing – what can we do to help teachers to develop their own skills? Again, please share your comments and suggestions.

In the webinar I’m going to be drawing on two articles from ELT Journal to illustrate some ways of doing both of these, and I hope to be able to share links with you so that you can access the articles free of charge.