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Developing Intercultural Competence In Your Classes

group of friends socialisingAs a Spanish learner, I once faced the awkward situation of thinking I was having a conversation about new potatoes being on the menu, when in fact the hotel manager had diverged from the conversation to give me the news that there was a new Pope! Being in a Catholic Latin American country at the time, I should have been more aware of the context and cultural importance of the vote going on in the Vatican that week. However, my focus was simply on the words. Hence intercultural competence is so important and should not be ignored in the language classroom. It is especially so with English because it facilitates communication between so many people from diverse backgrounds (ELT Position Paper on Global Skills, 2019).

If we are to successfully communicate with people, we need to appreciate different perspectives to be able to understand how someone on the other side of the planet might view things. Open, respectful, and tolerant communication enables interaction with diverse cultures effectively, enabling us to connect with people. From researchers to taxi drivers, gaining intercultural competence alongside language skills can help smooth out communications and help reduce the stress of communicating in another language.

Intercultural competence in the ELT classroom

As an English language teacher, you may wonder if your students will be interested in such a thing as intercultural competence. A useful exercise to help students understand its importance is to ask them to write down what different interests, groups of people, clubs/societies, communities (local/national/international) they belong to. As an English language teacher, perhaps you listen to music in English and are part of a fan group of certain music artists; belong to an association of English teachers; run a book club. You might enjoy super-hero films; be a fan of Liverpool Football Club and watch every press conference Jurgen Klopp makes. – Incidentally, as a German manager of players of 17 different nationalities, living in England, he is an excellent example of what intercultural competence means.

  • The activity helps us understand how we belong to different communities and are multi-faceted in terms of our cultures. In other words, multicultural is the norm, not the exception.
  • For the teacher, it becomes a multi-purpose activity, because students are using English to discuss and write down the communities they belong to, whilst the teacher simultaneously discovers students’ interests and online communities they belong to.

Many students are keen to learn about Korean culture to understand their K-Pop idols better and so might combine Korean words with their English in their chats on fandom pages. Greta Thunberg is a climate activist that has captured the interest of many teenagers and young people. The sports fans may prefer Naomi Osaka – a Japanese tennis star born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, brought up in the US. Whatever the interest of your students, the chances are high that they visit and possibly engage with other fans, in English, on pages/websites, so they are probably already reading in English to find out about the people/topics they are interested in.

English language and citizenship

As our students are online much of the time, it is essential that we can help them to be aware of their responsibilities as fair-minded and respectful participants. Bullying is a topic that we can investigate and learn about its effects together so that those who may have thought being anonymous removes responsibility realise that there are consequences of actions.

We can weave citizenship into example sentences while helping the understanding/practice of language items. E.g. because, because of, that is why, as a result of, consequently:

“I know a few words of Korean because I love Rain’s music.”

“Lewis Hamilton is one of the best F1 drivers and he is not afraid to promote Black Lives Matter. That is why I like him the best.”

“Billie Eilish is vegan, believes in sustainable fashion, and consequently signed a contract with H&M for their sustainable fashion line.”

“As a result of Greta Thunberg’s activism, more young people understand the need for replacing petroleum as an energy source.”

“Because of bullying, I refuse to have an Instagram account.”

Encouraging learner autonomy

After using the above kind of examples to illustrate how we use these connectives, we can ask students to do an internet search on a person/topic of interest and note down 5 sentences that use a variety of the same connectives. A follow-up to this could be they write out the sentences they found with a blank for the connective and provide it as an example for their peers to complete.

Another meaningful way to get students to further practise connectives would be to ask students to reflect on what issues/cultural aspects they feel strongly about in their communities and if there are any that have influenced their behaviour/habits. This would lead to them creating their own sentences using the connectives to describe why or how these issues have influenced how they live. Hence while they are using and practising English, students are also becoming more conscious about reasons for good citizenship and opinions on cultural values.

Download the position paper

 


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


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Digital Divide: What Is It And How Can You Bridge The Gap?

woman sitting on the ground and working on her laptopWe can safely say that, through the difficulties of 2020, English language teachers have grown accustomed to delivering online classes and learning to use new digital tools. Some teachers may face many weeks ahead of continuing such classes if high Covid-19 cases see a resurgence, their new academic year does not start until 2021, or they have become ‘online teachers’ on a semi-permanent basis.

As a result, some teachers have found themselves dependent on the help of parents to ensure their children are online at designated times and able to access class materials. Parent support is especially important for younger students who perhaps did not originally have the necessary computing skills to act independently.
But what about our students who cannot access the internet from home, or do not have reliable electricity supplies? Not only is infrastructure an issue, but also the lack of digital equipment, e.g. when siblings and/or parents require the use of a laptop or computer simultaneously. Similarly, adult students may have to share their bandwidth and equipment with a partner, or family, who all need to work online.

These are examples of what the ‘digital divide’ is beginning to look like in many of our societies – those with an unproblematic ability to access the internet or digital equipment, versus those with regular difficulties to reliably access either the internet or the necessary equipment.

This article focuses on the two issues of lack of connectivity and dealing with the parents who have this problem.

Helping students with connectivity issues

Many teachers have had few options but to carry on delivering online classes, while being unable to meet the needs of those students who cannot get online when they are delivering their ‘live’ (synchronous) classes. Here are some practical solutions to help address some of these problems:

  1. Upload materials to your school or institution platform that allows students to be online to download materials then work with them offline. The same can be done with a video of a lesson that you delivered. This, however, depends on your institution having a digital platform.
  2. If you use a digital platform, don’t upload pdf documents because they require a lot of memory and can take up a lot of space on a smartphone, which may be the only device a parent can use to download learning materials for their child.
  3. Use G-suite (Google Docs, Sheets and Slides) or Microsoft’s One Drive. These can be used to upload learning materials which you can save so they are available offline. For this the teacher, if using G-suite, needs to use Google Chrome and be online at the time of saving the materials. By adjusting the Settings, you can turn on Offline Setting, then send it as normal. Students do not need to be online to access it via WhatsApp, nor do they need to download it. If using Microsoft’s One Drive set up One Drive to Sync, and you simply drag it into a file that you have shared with your students (or parents).
  4. While you give an online class, simultaneously record yourself so you can send the recording to your students who could not get online at the time. The mp4 recording can then be converted to an mp3, so that it is not such a large file and it will not require a student (or parent) to be online for hours, and therefore at great expense, simply to download materials. The same thing can be done with a Zoom recording to reduce memory, before making it available to students.
  5. While doing an online class live, you can use Google Docs Voice Typing. This simultaneously types what you say and allows you to save it as a Google Doc. This way you can allow students, who could not attend synchronously, to have a transcript of what was said during the lesson. Tip: You do need to speak very clearly, which may help you be mindful about your pronunciation and clarity when you speak to your students. It is worth doing, simply to see how clear the app thinks your voice is – this is a good reflective task for any ELT teacher!

Working with parents to solve connectivity problems

Being able to help students with connectivity issues, of course, depends on the teacher setting up an understanding relationship with the parents. They are the ones who have connectivity issues. But if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that remote learning for students below the age of 18 must be in collaboration with parents. Here are some ways to help such collaboration:

  1. Establish WhatsApp (or equivalent) contact with parents of students. You could set up a special group only for you and the parents of students with connectivity issues. Then, while you deliver an online class, call the group (but only using the audio function because it needs less bandwidth) so any parent can help their child hear the class and even participate.
  2. If you are distributing worksheets or planning to use one in a live online class, send a WhatsApp message or email to the parents with connectivity issues the day before.
  3. You can also print the worksheet or materials, photograph it, and send it to the WhatsApp group for parents who do not have email accounts.
  4. Similarly, if you used Google Docs Voice Typing to use as a transcript (as described above), or any Google Doc, Sheet, or Slides, it can be saved using the Offline Setting. Similarly with Microsoft’s One Drive. Which means that the parent does not lose valuable time (and money) online accessing your teaching materials. The parent does not even require a Gmail account to be able to access any of the Google applications.
  5. If, for some reason, you do not get on well with G-suite or Microsoft’s One Drive you could convert a document to a QR code and send the code to the WhatsApp group. (Please follow this link to a YouTube video showing you how to do this).

As we were thrust into digital teaching, there was an assumption that teachers must synchronously teach the same number of times as they had been doing face-to-face. But by doing things alternatively, as outlined above, that is not necessarily the case. I propose that this would improve the lives of not only teachers but also students and parents.

What have you found to be of help?

Feel free to use the comments section below to share your own experiences with our community of teachers!

  • What have you found most difficult about moving your teaching online?
  • What are your coping strategies?
  • Has your institution found a solution for students who cannot join online?

 

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?

Are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?Move forward together

 

 


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


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Too many to talk! Helping students interact in large classes

As ELT teachers we aim to create purposeful communication in the classroom because for many of our students it is their only exposure to the language. Institutions may, for a variety of reasons, try to get as many students into a single classroom as possible, inevitably creating large class sizes. So how do we manage to give students in such a setting the opportunity to really interact orally in the target language (TL)?

How large is large?

Firstly, it is worth considering whether size actually matters:

“the size is relative and a matter of perception that varies from teacher to teacher.” (Shamin et al, 2007)

I went from a relatively small class size of 15 in the UK (feeling it was a large class when asked to teach 17/18), to teaching classes of 60-80 in rural Nepal, which felt truly daunting.

In order to do the teacher training required, I needed to experience and understand the difficulties of the teachers to try to help them find solutions. One such solution was to divide the class into units: 10 groups of 6 students were somehow easier to deal with mentally than 60 students. If you are going to break the class down in this way, you do not need to have them all doing the same thing at the same time.

It’s not only the what, but the how

Various studies have been carried out over the years on the effects of class size upon learning, but the conclusions are mixed. Interestingly, the disagreement is often over whether the main factor is the class size or methodology.

I would dare to suggest that the key is to adapt our methodology. If we use the same methodology that we would use with 15 students, with 60-80, then we’ll forever be fighting to keep all our students attention. The class takes on a controlling environment, for the teacher to be able to get the same message across to everyone at the same time.

When you change the methodology, you also change the role of the teacher. You may need some adjustment. I have found that it takes a lot more preparation, for example, for the different groups to be getting on with their task smoothly. Clear instructions that are written down (either on the board, a slide, or on a worksheet) allows students to double-check should they forget along the way, what it was that they were supposed to focus on. This frees up the teacher because students don’t need to keep checking with them, thus allowing some quality time to be spent with each, or a select group of students. The teacher gets regular snapshots of the students’ language abilities, as well as being able to add relevant input if required to keep students on the right track. The teacher, therefore, becomes a source of advice/suggestions and needs to think on their feet according to the task/the students in the group/the difficulties.

If the teacher knows their students well and has carefully planned the tasks around them, many of the issues can be anticipated. Which brings me on to a crucial question, how do we get to know our students if there are so many of them?


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


Reference:

Shamin. F., N. Negash, C. Chuku, N. Demewoz (2007) Maximizing learning in large classes: Issues and options. Addis Ababa, British Council.


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How to get students writing: an insight into writing

Young woman writingZarina Subhan-Brewer is a freelance teacher trainer and has been working in the field of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) for over 20 years. Here she previews the upcoming webinar How to get students writing which takes place on Wednesday 18th June and Friday 20th June.

Do you see more and more people whip out their smartphones to take a note of something instead of a notebook and pen?

With the advent of technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the act of writing is dying out. I don’t know about you, but I still like to scribble ideas down on paper. I think better with a pen in my hand, and even while using technology, that circumnavigates the need to write, I have a pen and paper to hand, or even a pen in my mouth!

In ELT, writing is a skill that tends to be developed later, once students become confident in listening, speaking and reading skills. This makes absolute pedagogical sense of course – immediate communication skills are strengthened in order to give students the ability to react and respond in real time to each other. These skills also lend themselves well to more fun-filled activities in the classroom, which can keep the learner engaged and motivated. As language teachers, however, we are also obliged to facilitate the learning of writing skills.

Writing in English is no longer simply something students have to demonstrate in order to pass exams. It is a skill which affects employment opportunities and is actually put to practical use in the global village we now occupy. It is a skill that can open many doors and can be the deciding factor between one person being promoted and the next. Therefore we need to ensure that even though writing may be a skill that is taught and developed last of all of the four skills, it is not one that is ‘half-heartedly’ taught.

So how can we get our students to spend time on writing activities that can make lessons less fun and more ‘serious’? In the webinar How to get students writing, we’re going to look at what constitutes writing, the difficulties students have with writing and the subsequent problems that arise for teachers and what can be done to overcome them.


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My students say the absolute minimum

Solutions Speaking ChallengeZarina Subhan, an experienced teacher and teacher trainer, tackles the second of our Solutions Speaking Challenges: “My students say the absolute minimum”.

I find myself in the classroom in an unfamiliar position. It’s not the fact that I’ve given up teaching that makes this a new experience for me. It is the fact that I’m a student again. I’m learning Spanish and am sitting behind the desk, no longer the decision-maker who tells the learners what to do, but the student awaiting instructions and wondering if I understood them.

I’m rediscovering how uncertain, vulnerable and anxious it can feel to be a language student. Most of the reading, writing, listening, speaking and (most importantly) thinking in the target language (TL) happens in the classroom. I know I am there to improve my language; my motivation as an adult learner is high, yet I have to admit I could speak more in Spanish. So why don’t I?

The PPP Model

When you think you’ve grasped the structure of the language that has been presented, it is quite demoralising when you ‘practise’ it and get it all confused, or if you get the grammar focus right you somehow lose all previously-learned knowledge of the language.

When it is my turn to speak I keep babbling on about whatever it is that I’m attempting to say. The natural thing for the teacher to do is to correct me. However, as soon as s/he corrects me it interrupts me. I’m trying so hard to concentrate on what I have to say that this correction stops my thinking, when I need every single brain cell to be able to speak. It has taken me a great deal of focused thinking, recalling, structuring and motivation to construct and actually produce that language. Instead of feeling pleased about having actually communicated in the TL, I focus on what I failed to say correctly.

So, what if I could write a letter advising my teacher what would I say?

Letter to my teacher

Dear Teacher,

  1. Please wait until I’ve completed what it is I want to say, then focus on the idea I communicated and show me you’ve understood.
    That would really give me a feeling of success rather than failure. If at the end you could praise me and only correct me in terms of the structure/language/topic that is the focus for the lesson, it would help me turn your extrinsic motivation into my intrinsic motivation, and help me feel better about opening my mouth again in future.
  2. Could you also not insist on us taking turns one after the other to speak?
    I stop listening to my classmates until it’s just before my turn, when I tune back into the lesson. Perhaps if you asked for volunteers – the ones who actually have something interesting/fun to say – it would be more interesting for the rest of us and it wouldn’t be as painful as ALL of us reading out our boring, unimaginative offerings.
  3. If you gave us more than 2 seconds to come up with a response to your questions it would give me more thinking time.
    Please count to 10, or say the same thing a slightly different way. Whatever you do, don’t translate it, don’t ask several questions all at once, and don’t give us the answer before anyone has attempted to offer a response! Instead try writing up the key words of your question, show me a visual cue, and remind me when I last used this word/phrase. This all boosts my confidence and gives me more time to figure out my response rather than spending half my thinking time trying to be sure I’ve understood you correctly.
  4. I’ve noticed that when we have a laugh, I can forget about my anxiety and about being wrong/not being understood.
    So how about if we have points/smiley stickers/competitive games between teams – so that every time we give you a response in the TL we gain an advantage for our team? It may seem childish to you, but actually my wish to win/gain points/stickers overcomes the anxiety I sometimes feel and motivates me to speak.
  5. Talking of anxiety, not everyone likes speaking in front of the whole class.
    If you moved around the class and came to individual groups/pairs, we would feel happier speaking to each other with you listening in. Then you can correct us individually in a more intimate situation and not with everyone listening.

My lack of speaking is nothing personal. My lack of speaking is simply because I don’t like looking a fool in front of others. So I’d really appreciate it if you could eliminate the thinking that making mistakes is foolish and encourage the attitude that having a go is courageous. I think, then, I would be a better speaker in your classes.