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Beyond the classroom…involving parents in learning

shutterstock_220645462Vanessa has been teaching English as a Foreign language in Portugal for the past 20 years. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação.  Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, Teens and Pre-Teens. She joins us today to preview her webinar, ‘Beyond the classroom… involving parents in learning’ taking place tomorrow, 28th June and Wednesday 29th.

While it is true that as teachers our main mission is to teach the students in our classrooms lots of exciting new language and skills, it’s also true that as professional educators we often invest a lot of our precious time in speaking to and dealing with students’ parents. For example, we may just say a friendly hello, offer a friendly reminder, provide a word of warning or perhaps simply give a student’s family and loved ones some feedback about their child’s progress. Whilst this may suffice for some parents, some teachers assert that this is just the tip of the teacher parent relationship. I would argue that there is so much more that could be done to encourage both parties to join efforts to guarantee that each student reaches their personal learning goals successfully.

This webinar aims to look at how we as teachers can actively involve our students’ parents in their children’s school learning process. Generally speaking, by nature, most parents are interested in their children’s academic life and progress, and want to help their children be successful at school. It is also true that more often than not they are true specialists when it comes to knowing their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in many cases this natural interest turns out to be a source of frustration as it is not always channeled correctly, and rather than feeling useful and engaged, parents end up feeling lost and frustrated. They know that there is so much more that could be done to help their children, but don’t know exactly how to go about doing it.

In order to revert this, we will begin the webinar by discussing and analyzing how parent involvement outside school can be set up in a practical manner. The webinar will be structured as follows:

  1. Setting up a clear and open channel of communication between teachers and parents.
  2. Suggesting and exploring various ideas and activities to get parents started on the right track and gently guide and encourage them to become active participants in their children’s learning process.
  3. Suggesting and considering ideas like how to plan and set up a revision schedule for their children, how to choose appropriate learning resources and how to use the Oxford parents’ website to find appropriate tasks and activities.

By the end of the webinar participants will have a fair idea of how to go about creating a game plan to apply in their schools to involve and engage parents to help maximize their students’ learning. We will end the webinar with an opportunity for participants ask questions and to share any valuable experience and tips that they may have.

If you’re interested in taking part in Vanessa’s webinar, register for free by clicking the button below.

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#IATEFL – Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom

close up of colors art supplies on white background with clipping path

Erika Osvath is co-author of ‘Mixed-Ability Teaching’ from Oxford University Press’ ‘Into the Classroom’ series. Today she joins us ahead of her talk on Saturday April 16th at this year’s IATEFL conference to preview ‘Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom’

As many language teachers and researchers around the world attest, the self-esteem of language learners, being so fragile, is an important aspect to consider in the mixed-ability classroom.  Students with lower language level tend to be less confident, quieter and thus attempt to engage in much fewer opportunities to work with language. Meanwhile, stronger students may feel confident that they can perform well in most tasks the teacher sets and they are also likely to be more ready to take risks when using new language. The two scenarios described above are fairly typical in the mixed-ability classroom and it is easy see how they will inevitably lead to further increase of the gap in the language knowledge and abilities of these students.

So our job is to create opportunities where we support the self-esteem of all the students while at the same time reach the desired language teaching goals.  One way of achieving this in the classroom is by setting tasks that build on self-expression through flexible frameworks that can be easily used by students of mixed language levels. Through activities that involve art, music and poetry we can help students to drawn on their own content, to focus on their creative selves primarily, allowing language to emerge as a result. These forms of expression are highly personal and unique for every student, therefore they become a lot more engaged and actively involved in the learning process. Art, music and poetry become a channel for students to express themselves in meaningful ways, and the added benefit of these forms of creative self-expression is that they bring about an audience too, having a further positive effect on how students perceive themselves in the language learning process.

So let’s look at a few examples of such tasks:

Doodle exhibition

Play some soft instrumental music in class and ask students to doodle, to draw lines and shapes that the music evokes. The only rule is that they cannot pick up their pen from the paper, but let it move as the music leads it. Then post their doodles around the room and give each student a few post-it notes. Write the following stems – or anything appropriate for the level of the students – on the board to help them comment on the doodles displayed.

This is/looks … (adjective)
I like it because, …
It’s interesting because, …
It reminds me of …
I think you may have thought of …

Students should walk around the room, look at the doodles, write one positive comment on a post-it note, and stick it on the appropriate doodle. Once someone has already commented on a doodle, they should read it and put a smiley emoticon or a tick if they agree, but they cannot add a new comment until all the doodles have one, i.e. a post-it note.
Let students walk around the room, enjoy the doodle exhibition and read each other’s comments.  If you find it appropriate, as a follow up you could also ask them to share their thoughts and reactions to the doodles in speaking in small groups too, again, using the sentence stems from the board.

Poetry

There are various ways you can ask students to write poems about their own feelings and thoughts. In my experience, students respond very well to ones which contain repetitive structures. These, of course, are ideal language practice opportunities at the same time. For example, ‘I will …, but I will not … ‘ for future promises or ‘I didn’t …, but I …’ for describing their last holiday, etc. You may also want to use a short and simple model poem for them to read and be inspired by, but make sure these are not challenging linguistically. In each case, it is crucial that students are asked to brainstorm ideas based on their personal feelings and their own experiences before they see the model poem. Otherwise, the model poem may become an obstacle for students to write their own, especially to learners who might think they have to produce something similar. For an example lesson with a model poem, see here.


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Making online language learning safe

shutterstock_312877391Aisha Walker is Associate Professor of Technology, Education and Learning at the University of Leeds. With a background in linguistics, language learning and primary education her research areas include digitally-mediated communication, academic language and childrens’ engagement with digital technologies. Today she joins us ahead of her webinar Online risk and safety for language learners and teachers to preview what she will discuss at this online event.

The online digital world offers huge benefits to language learners and teachers.  Much of our everyday language use takes place in digital environments and is mediated by digital tools.  This means that it is sensible for language teachers use these tools with their students.  After all, students will need to be able to communicate in the target language using digital tools as fluently as, say, handwriting (if not more so).  Nowadays, we are likely to write business emails rather than letters; to send Facebook messages rather than birthday cards and to check the news using social media rather than the daily newspaper.  Language learners need to be able to negotiate all of these new contexts and to use appropriate language in digital spaces.

Digital tools and media also offer opportunities for authentic communication with people across the globe.  However specialised our interests we can look online to find people who share them.  For example, the digital world is full of keen hobbyists sharing their ideas or patterns and showing off their newly completed work.  Gamers meet in multiplayer online games where they plan and discuss strategies or they play casual online games such as ‘Words with Friends’.  People use Twitter to talk about current events. Indeed, sometimes Twitter is the news!  Learners no longer have to write work that will languish in exercise books to be read only by teachers and parents; their work can be published to a genuine audience through blogs or sharing  sites such as YouTube or SoundCloud.  The audience can, and will, respond by ‘liking’ the work or through the comment system.

The opportunities offered by the online digital world are undoubtedly exciting but there is also a dark side.  Children may be exposed to inappropriate content or may use online shopping sites to buy goods that they are not legally old enough to purchase.  Extremist groups use social media to publicise themselves and this may draw young people towards extremism.   There are legitimate concerns about mental-ill health issues such as ‘thinspiration‘.  Criminals may use social media or games to find and groom victims; two such cases were recently featured in BBC documentaries (Alicia Kozakiewicz and Breck Bednar) showing that the dangers are real.

Teachers have to navigate the benefits of the online digital world whilst avoiding the risks both for their learners and for themselves.  For some teachers (and schools) this is too intimidating and so they avoid social media in their classes and do not encourage students to publish their work online.  In this webinar we will talk about some of the fears that participants have about using online digital tools and media with their learners.  We will discuss some of the options for safe online working and strategies that teachers might use such as setting ground rules for their learners.  I hope that in this webinar we can draw upon our collective wisdom and that participants will be willing to discuss their own fears and ideas although I will, of course, have some suggestions to offer!

If you’re interested in learning more about safety for language learners and teachers online, please register below for this free webinar, taking place on 23rd and 24th March.

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#IATEFL – Why invest in extensive reading?


IMG_3569_lowresAhead of her talk ‘Engine of Change – research into the impact of extensive reading’ at this year’s IATEFL conference, Domino author Nina Prentice explores the relevance of extensive reading in the language learning classroom, and discusses the successes of the Read On! class library project in Italy last year. 

I believe that [extensive reading] has helped me learn and develop in a number of ways. It gave me the chance to learn English differently, by having fun. It has also enriched me. Above all it has really improved my English. There isn’t a better way to learn!’

 Maria – Read On! Student 2015

‘The [extensive reading] project obliged me to invest my and my students’ energies on other activities outside the normal routines. [This] delivered unexpected outcomes in terms of motivation, learning, and students’ self-esteem thereby facilitating lessons even outside the project.’

Professoressa Confetta, Della Chiesa Middle School, Reggio Emilia 2015

What is extensive reading and how can it transform learning? The short answer is reading by choice and for pleasure but what does this mean in practice?

The two comments above, reflecting on last year’s participation in OUP Italy’s Read On! class library project, show that reading extensively makes a real difference – to individual students’ growth and to effective teaching and learning in the classroom.  But it does require an investment of energy and time. This post will look briefly at what it takes to invest in extensive reading and how it enriches students, like Maria, who have enjoyed learning in this way.

INVESTING YOUR ENERGIES IN A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Extensive reading works well alongside traditional language learning methods but this kind of reading is not about comprehension exercises, book reports and spot quizzes. It is about motivating students by giving them choice, responsibility and the opportunity to enjoy reading free of the usual classroom obligations.  

INVESTING TIME IN THE CLASS LIBRARY

The Class Library is the heart of extensive reading. For the OUP Read On! project in Italy, teachers use a mobile trolley suitcase library filled with around 90 OUP graded readers, four for each class member, so that borrowing works smoothly. Teachers and students take time to:

  • Celebrate their class library with a welcome party
  • Organise their borrowing system and choose class librarians
  • Enjoy the library, opening it in every lesson so students and the teacher can exchange books freely and frequently.
  • Share everybody’s reading experiences, likes and dislikes.

INVESTING IN CREATIVE READING ACTIVITIES

Another key approach is to enjoy alternative classroom activities encouraging students to explore their reading through games, drama, videos, illustration, newspaper reporting, CLIL links and research. Check out the Read On! Website for practical ideas: www.oup.com/elt/readon

INVESTING IN READING FLUENCY

Reading requires practice. There are no short cuts. Fluent readers decode words and understand meaning rapidly with little mental effort. Learning becomes easier because students don’t translate every word they read.

To invest in reading fluency means:

  • Starting simply and working your way up. Persuade students to read easier low-level graded readers in the class library before tackling higher levels.  Ban dictionaries. There should be no more than one or two words on the page that the learner does not understand.
  • Ensuring students have time to read extensively. Give your class regular 10 minutes silent reading breaks during lessons two or three times a week. Encourage students to read on the bus travelling to and from school. Give reading time instead of homework for one night a week.
  • Practicing regularly. Students read for 20 minutes a day, aiming to read one to two graded readers a week.

Extensive reading is pleasurable, interesting and fun: never a chore. Inspire your students. Show how much you love reading. Read alongside them and promote and enjoy alternative activities linked to their reading. Your students will grow and your classroom will be enriched. Read On!

 


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Mixed-ability teaching: Preparing for a class and managing the classroom

School children writingEdmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 20 years of classroom experience. Ahead of his webinar on the subject, Ed joins us today to discuss mixed-ability teaching and setting learning goals for language learners of differing levels of skill. 

What do we mean by mixed-ability?

Mixed-ability classes are the norm, rather than the exception. Whether or not a class has been streamed according to language level, there are still likely to be big differences between individual learners in every group. I’ll be exploring some of these differences in the webinar.

What about differentiated learning?

Differentiating the learning activities in class is a good way to make language more accessible to learners at different levels – without losing a sense of togetherness.

Here are three ways that classroom activities can be differentiated:

Differentiating the input

For a reading comprehension activity, create two alternative versions of the text beside the original: one version adapted to make it more accessible, and another version made more challenging. Learners each tackle one of the three texts and then answer the same comprehension questions.

Differentiating the process

Alternatively, provide students with identical input (e.g. a set of questions) and then choose one of a number of options for finding out the answers (e.g. by reading a text, by doing individual research, or by completing a spoken information-gap activity.)

Differentiating the output

Open-ended questions can turn a narrow activity into something more accessible and flexible. Students all get the same prompt, but can respond in their own way. For a writing task, provide a ‘menu’ of prompt questions from which learners can choose the one they find most interesting. And why not set a time limit instead of a word limit? Then students write as much as they can within the allotted time.

How can we set appropriate learning goals?

A successful learning environment is one that is goal-oriented, but we should remember that setting ill-conceived or unrealistic goals is counter-productive. Achievable and desirable goals, on the other hand, lead to a healthy learning environment where students’ efforts are rewarded – triggering further motivation.

It’s not all about language – identifying personal goals and groups goals that are not related to language can have a beneficial effect on the group dynamic and individual achievement. Examples might be remembering to switch off phones in class, or finding a different partner to work with for every pairwork activity.

Grouping learners within lessons

When learners in mixed-ability groups are given activities to tackle in small groups and pairs there are more opportunities for personalized learning than in frontal teaching.

Pair work and group work also offer greater variety within activities, allowing individual students to work together with a number of different classmates in the same lesson and, over the course of a term, with everyone in the class.

There are many techniques for grouping learners and a number of different criteria that can be applied – I’ll be exploring some of these in the webinar.

Managing the mixed-ability classroom

Managing the classroom is the responsibility of the teacher – but that does not mean that students should be completely excluded from the process. In fact, there are many ways that we can involve students meaningfully in the day-to-day running of the classroom by finding a variety of appropriate, self-affirming and constructive roles for them to perform. I’ll be sharing some examples in the webinar.

If you’re interested in learning more about the subject and gaining practical ideas for managing mixed ability in the classroom, please register below for this free webinar, taking place on 19th and 21st January.

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