Tag: learning

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

Fun things I’ve learnt from writing one ELT coursebook

I’ve recently read (am a bit slow) this post https://eltplanning.com/2018/08/03/materials-writer-elt/ and one point really stood out to me – about how being interested in lots of things is helpful for materials writers. And as I’m just going through the proof stage of a book I’ve co-written, it made me reflect on the interesting things I’ve learnt about while writing one ELT book. They include:

– foodsharing and carsharing – justifications and legal issues

– reasons for vegetariansm and other dietary choices

– Shakespeare’s legacy / influence on the English we use today, plus the fact that there is a computer game based (loosely) on Hamlet!

– tiny homes and motivations for minimalist lifestyles

– crazy competitions from around the world

– details on the origins of many holidays and the associated traditions (Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Chrismukkah,…)

– training for a marathon & health benefits of running over other sports

– origins of sports idioms

– how to fake a news story and a photo of monsters/freaks of nature/other unidentifiable objects – yes really!

– how to carve an onion into a flower – though I have to admit I’ve not yet had an occasion to try this out!

 

Writing this book has had an effect on my own life and lifestyle; I can only hope the future students find the topics as engaging!

What about you? Have you researched something to make language teaching materials and learnt something new that’s changed your life?

 

 

Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

What do you do in those last 5 minutes of class when you’ve finished everything that was planned? Or when energy levels hit a low during a lesson? Or in that lull while the next student gets ready to present, or whatever? We all know about the need to revise and recycle new vocabulary in language lessons, and in this post I want to share a few vocabulary revision activities that teachers can slot into any downtime that might occur in a lesson!

I’ve built up my repertoire of this kind of quick review activity over the years, so many are borrowed or adapted from colleagues, and others are based on popular board games. I want to give you a collection, all in one place, of collaborative and competitive activities that check students have remembered and actually understood new words (i.e. there are no rote learning activities here!) You can print out this post and take it to lessons with you – that’s the only paper you’ll need: all of these activities have one main thing in common – you don’t need to photocopy anything to do them!

1. Scategories

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Choose a category of vocabulary you want students to revise, for example ‘character traits’, ‘school subjects’, ‘transition words showing contrast’. Choose 5-10 letters of the alphabet and write them, with the category, on the board. Students (in teams, if you wish) now have 1 minute to come up with one vocabulary item fitting the category which starts with each of the letters you have chosen. Compare answers. To make it into a competition, give points: Students or teams get 2 points if they’ve written a correct vocab item that no one else / no other team has written, and one point for correct vocab items that someone else wrote down, too.

2. ‘Taboo’ on the board

Like the game ‘Taboo’, but without any little slips of paper that need preparing! It works best with nouns. Get your learners to sit with their backs to the board. Option 1: Choose one student to look at the board and see the word you’ve written there. They have to explain it to the other students, who try to guess which word is being explained. The first student who guesses correctly can be the next one to explain a word. Option 2: Group competition! Students sit in teams/groups with their backs to the board. One team member turns around and looks at the word you’ve written on the board, and explains it to their team members, who try to guess which word it is. Give them a time limit (e.g. 30 secs per word). For each word correctly guessed within the time limit, the team gets one point (keep track on the board) and then the next team has a turn. To make either option more difficult, write the main word on the board (maybe put a circle around it) and add two or three ‘taboo’ words which are not allowed to be used in the explanation. For example, if the main word is “bauble”, the taboo words might be “Christmas,” “tree” and “decoration.”

3. Beep

This guessing game works best with verbs or verb phrases, but nouns can be good, too. One student is told a ‘secret word’ which is to be ‘beeped out’ (like swearwords on TV). The other students ask them yes/no questions to try to guess the secret word – each student is only allowed one question at a time. For example, “Who BEEPS?” “Do you BEEP on your own?” “What do people BEEP most often?”¬† As these examples show, the activity can be used with fairly low-level language, but I’ve also used it in EAP with verbs such as research, evaluate, and analyse. After their question has been answered, the student can make a guess at the secret word, if they wish – if they get it right, they can be the next one who is given a secret word. To make it more difficult, allow each student only 2 guesses at the secret word during each round.

4. Sentence editing bingo

I like using this one to revise adverbs or adverbial phrases, but nouns work, too. Students abingo-159974_960_720re asked to write down a number of vocab items that you’ve recently covered in a particular category (e.g. adverbs of manner, adverbial phrases for time/place, things you find in a classroom). Choose the number according to how much time you have and how many sentences you think you’ll get through. Usually 5 or so is enough. Students can also work in pairs. Write a simple sentence on the board, such as “I like reading.” Students tick off one of their words if they think it can fit correctly into the sentence. For example, a student might tick off ‘in the evening’ or ‘really,’ or maybe ‘books’ if you’ve gone with nouns. Repeat this with several sentences. Once a student has ticked off, i.e. thinks they’ve been able to use appropriately, all of their words/phrases, they shout ‘Bingo!’ Check their answers together as a class – if there’s time, check other students’ suggestions, too.

5. Changing corners

This activity will get students up and moving around the room! Make sure they move their chairs and bags out of the way! Nominate corners or sides of the room that are the ‘spelling zone’, ‘definition zone’,¬† and ‘example zone’. Call out one vocabulary item you want to revise. Students have to move and stand by the corner or wall that shows the challenge they feel comfortable doing with that word: spelling it, defining it, or using it in an example sentence. Pick one student from each zone to give their answer out loud. To make it a competition, either give points for correct answers (1 for spelling, 2 for defining, 3 for an example use), or get anyone who gives an incorrect answer to sit down, then keep going with different vocab items until only three students are left! (For this, you might need to increase the difficulty of the words as you go along!)

 

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

Time for a little advertising! ūüėČ

On October Thursday 5th October at 4.25pm UK time, I’ll be giving an online talk as part of the LTSIG /OllREN online conference and would be delighted to see you there!

LTSIG Presentation Clare Maas

Exploring efficient ways to give sustainable feedback on L2 writing is important because providing meticulous correction of language errors and hand-written summaries can be time-consuming and often seems less effective than desired. For feedback to be sustainable (i.e. effective long-term), it should be formative, interactive and impact on students’ future work (Carless et al 2011). Thus traditional, hand-written feedback practices may be inefficient at effecting sustainability. Integrating technology into feedback delivery has been shown to have potential in alleviating the situation, by stimulating students to engage with feedback they receive and enabling dialogues about their work.

Combining work into feedback on L2 writing with ideas promoted in higher education, I devised the Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) procedure, where feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‚Äėdrive‚Äô how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various digital delivery modes and are required to pose questions about their work to which the tutor responds.

In this talk, I will summarise some recent literature which supports both the use of technologies such as email, audio recording, and text-editing software features, and responses to students’ individual queries in feedback procedures, before practically demonstrating LDF. I will refer to my own recently published article on LDF in EAP, and discuss my evaluation of its application in my teaching, providing compelling reasons and practical suggestions for its employment in various language teaching contexts. These discussions will also explore potential mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of multimodal approaches to making feedback more sustainable, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups. This includes topics such as learner autonomy, motivation, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualisation.

The talk is thus a combination of practical demonstration and theoretical background, of interest and relevance to a broad audience.

 

Reference: Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., Lam, J., 2011. Developing sustainable
feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36, 395‚Äď407.

Writing an ebook with students

Writing an ebook with students

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My students have written an ebook!

You can read it for free here.

From an ELT perspective, this ebook is the result of a semester-long CLIL class, with project-based learning and a real and motivating outcome! If you want to find out how we did it, this post is for you!

Context

Our class was on British cultural studies, aimed at master’s level students of English Studies. This class aims to promote language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topic. Usually, students are expected to do one oral presentation and one piece of written work as the assessment for this class. Only the other class members see the presentations, and the individual teacher is the only one who reads the essays, in order to grade them. ¬†I’d say this is a pretty standard set up.

Background

Last summer, a colleague and I revamped our British cultural studies classes to move towards project-based learning. In 2016, our students hosted an exhibition open to staff and students a the University, which you can read about here. It was pretty successful, though the students involved found it a shame that all their hard work was only seen by a limited audience. Of course, the audience was a lot less limited than usual, but that’s what they said anyway…!

And so I came up with the idea of producing an ebook this year, which could then be made available publicly. I had seen other organisations use smashwords, and read about how easy it could be to publish a book through that site, so that’s what I thought we should do.¬†I chose the umbrella topic of Britain in the Nineties for our focus, and 23 students signed up. I provided an outline for the class, which included a general module description, assessment requirements for the module, a provisional schedule for the ebook (to be sent to publish in the last week of semester!), and a selected bibliography of recommended reading on the topic.

Our semester is 14 weeks long, with one 90-minute lesson of this class each week. So how did we manage to produce an ebook in this time?

Weeks 1-3

In the first three lessons, I provided a video documentary, an academic article and a film for students to watch/read as a broad introduction to the topic. In lessons, we collected the main themes from this input (key words here: politics, music, social change), and discussed how they were interlinked. Each week, a different student was responsible for taking notes on our discussions and sharing these on our VLP for future reference. In week three, we rephrased our notes into potential research questions on key topic areas.

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At the end of each lesson, we spent some time talking about the ebook in general. As the semester progressed, the time we spent on this increased and resembled business-like meetings.

Week 4

By this point, students had chosen topics / research questions to write about and discussed their choices in plenary to ensure that the ebook¬†would present a wide-spread selection of topics on Britain in the Nineties. The students decided (with my guidance!) to write chapters for the ebook in pairs, and that each chapter should be around 2000 words, to fulfil the written assessment criteria of the class. Writing in pairs meant that they automatically had someone to peer review their work. To fulfil the oral assessment criteria, I required each writing team to hold a ‘work in progress’ presentation on the specific topic of their chapter. I had wanted to include these presentations to make sure I could tick the ‘oral assessment’ box, and because having to present on what they were writing would hopefully mean they got on with their research and writing sooner rather than later!

Weeks 5 & 7

The lessons in these two weeks were dedicated to writing workshops and peer review. We started both lessons by discussing what makes for good peer review, and I gave them some strategies for using colours for comments on different aspects of a text, as well as tables they could use to structure their feedback comments. These tables are available here. Regarding language, these are post-grad students at C1 level, so they’re in a pretty good position to help each other with language accuracy. I told them to underline in pencil anything that sounded odd or wrong to them, whether they were sure or not. If they were sure, they could pencil in a suggestion to improve the sentence/phrase, and if not then the underlining could later serve the authors as a note to check their language at that point.

In week 5, we looked at different genres of essay (cause/effect, compare/contrast, argument, etc), and how to formulate effective thesis statements for each of them. This focussed practice was followed by peer review on the introductions students had drafted so far. By this point, the students had decided that their chapters could be grouped thematically into sections within the ebook, and so did peer review on the work of the students whose chapters were going to be in the same section as their own.

In week 7, we reviewed summaries and conclusions, and also hedging language. Again, this was followed by peer review in their ‘section’ groupings, this time on students’ closing paragraphs.

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Weeks 6 – 11

Almost half way through the semester, all writing teams were working on their chapters. In the lessons, we had a couple of ‘work in progress’ presentations each week. Further to my expectations, the presentations did an excellent job at promoting discussion, and particularly prompted students to find connections between their specific topics – so much so, that they decided to use hyperlinks within the ebook to show the readers these connections. Some students also used their presentations to ask for advice with specific problems they had encountered while researching/writing (e.g. lack of resources, overlaps with other chapters), and these were discussed in plenary to help each writing team as best we could. The discussions after the presentations were used to make any decisions that affected the whole book, for example which citation style we should use or whether to include images.

Week 12

In week 12, all writing teams submitted their texts to me. This was mainly because I needed to give them a grade for their work, but I also took the opportunity to give detailed feedback on their text and the content so they could edit it before it was published. I was also able to give some pointers on potential links to other chapters, since I had read them all. I felt much more like an editor, I have to say, than a teacher!

In the lesson, we had a discussion about pricing our ebook and marketing it. To avoid tax issues, we decided to make the ebook available for free. One student suggested asking for donations to charity instead of charging people to buy the book.

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This idea was energetically approved, and students set about looking into charities¬†we could support. In the end, SHINE education charity won the vote (organised by the students themselves!) I dutifully set up a page for us on justgiving.com: If you’d like to donate, it can be found here.

 

At this point, we also discussed a cover for the book. One student suggested writing ‘the Nineties’ in the Beatles’ style, to emphasise the links to the 1960s that some chapters mentioned. We also thought about including pencil sketches of some of the key people mentioned in the book, but were unable to source any that all students approved of. Instead, students used the advanced settings on the google image search to find images that were copyright free. A small group of students volunteered to finalise the cover design, and I have to say, I think they did a great job!

Week 13

During the lesson in this week, the ebook really came together. Some of the students were receiving more credit points than others for the class, based on their degree programme, and so it was decided that those students should be in charge of formatting the text according to smashwords’ guidelines, and also for collating an annotated bibliography. I organised a document on google docs, where all students noted some bullet points appraising one source they had used for their chapter, and the few who were getting extra points wrote this up and formatted it into a bibliography.

Formatting the text for publication on smashwords.com was apparently not too difficult, as the smashwords’ guidelines explain everything step-by-step, and you do not need to be a computer whizz to follow their explanations!

Week 14 and beyond

This week was the deadline I had set for sending the ebook for publication. After the formatting team had finished, I read through the ebook as a full document for the first time! I corrected any langauge errors that hadn’t been caught previously, and wrote the introduction for the book. ¬†This took me about 2 evenings.

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Then I set myself up a (free) account at smashwords.com and uploaded the ebook text and cover design. Luckily, the students had done a great job following the formatting rules, and the book was immediately accepted for the premium catalogue! (*very proud*)

 

Another small group of students volunteered to draw up some posters for advertising, and to share these with all class members so we could publicise the ebook on social media, on the Department’s webpage, and in the University’s newsletter.

Et voila! We had successfully published our ebook in just 14 weeks!

Evaluation

I’m so glad that I ran this project with my students! It honestly did not take more of my time than teaching the class as ‘usual’ – though usually the marking falls after the end of term, and it was quite pressured getting it done so we could publish in the last week! In future, I might move the publication date to later after the end of semester to ease some of the stress, though I do worry that students’ might lose momentum once we’re not meeting each week.

The students involved were very motivated by the idea that the general public would be able to read their work! I really felt that they made an extra effort to write the best texts they could (rather than perhaps just aiming to pass the class). This project was something entirely new for them, and they were pleased about their involvement for many reasons, ranging from being able to put it on their CV, to seeing themselves as ‘real’ writers. They have even nominated me for a teaching prize for doing this project with them!

Sadly, one student plagiarised. Knowingly. She said that she was so worried her writing wouldn’t be good enough, so she ‘borrowed’ large chunks of texts from an MA dissertation which is available online. Her writing partner didn’t catch it, and was very upset that their chapter would (discreetly!) not be included in the ebook. He was very apologetic to me; and probably also quite angry at her. If the reason she gave was true, it obviously rings alarm bells that I was expecting too much from the students or didn’t support them enough. I will aim to remedy this in future. It could, of course, just have been an excuse.

Also, some other students reported feeling that this project demanded more work from them than they would normally have to put into a class where the grade doesn’t count. Maybe this is because writing in a pair can take more time and negotiation, or maybe they also felt stressed by having to write their text during term time, rather than in the semester break when they would normally do their written assessments. Overall, though, the complaints were limited and often seemed to be clearly outweighed by the pride and enjoyment of being involved¬†in such a great project!

I’m really pleased with how this project panned out, and would recommend other teachers give it a go! I’m very happy to answer any questions in the comments below, and for now, I wish you inspiration and happy ebook-project-planning! ūüôā

 

 

Review: Successful Group Work – 13 Activities to Teach Teamwork Skills

Review: Successful Group Work – 13 Activities to Teach Teamwork Skills

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Many teacher manuals encourage the inclusion of group work in class activities, naming benefits including increased productivity, creativity and motivation. Still, to make the most of group work tasks and these advantages, teachers and learners must be aware that working¬†in a team involves navigating certain challenges, which some basic training can help with. In her new book, Successful Group Work, Patrice Palmer therefore presents a selection of activities which aim to foster the development of the relevant skills and maximise students’ learning in group tasks.

You can find out more about the book, including other reviews, here. And here is some more information about the author, Patrice Palmer:

Patrice-Palmr-Portrait-150x150Patrice Palmer taught English for speakers of other languages for twenty years before parlaying her experience into a business. She now teaches online courses, writes English-language-teaching materials and blogs, and designs courses.¬†Palmer received her bachelor of arts degree from York University, Canada. She holds a¬†master of education degree in teaching, learning, and development from Brock University; a second master of arts degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; and an OCELT certification.¬†In addition to teaching college-level communication courses, Palmer has developed English-language curricula for Hong Kong secondary schools and vocational programs. ¬†She also wrote¬†An A‚ÄďZ Guide: How to Survive and Thrive as a New ESL Teacher¬†and¬†Dream Beyond the Classroom: The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit.

The activities Patrice presents aim at building a foundation for good teamwork, and can help students to develop skills that will therefore be useful even beyond the classroom setting. They are not aimed specifically at language learners, but can be used in any subject classroom – though the target group of language learners is quite obvious in some activities.

Thirteen activities are presented, which each train a particular skill relevant for successful group work. They seem to roughly follow the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing’ stages of successful team formation: Some are most relevant at the initial stages (e.g. team building), and some towards the end of a group project (e.g. reflection and evaluation). Patrice’s suggestion is the activities should function as a complete course, training students to work in teams, and should all be worked through before they embark on a group task. Still, the activities can also be used individually, for example to focus on a specific teamwork skill that students need to improve, as they are relevant to different stages of a team task.

Many of the activities require very little preparation, and the instructions include realistic timing suggestions (there are shorter and longer activities) that can help teachers with quick planning. Patrice has provided examples of words, questions, checklists etc. that can be used for the activities, and these could also help teachers to develop their own more targeted version of the activities presented here. The instructions also include ‘debriefing’ questions which can promote fruitful discussions and help students reflect on their learning, which I find a particularly good idea – especially if some students are not keen on group work, this kind of discussion may increase their receptivity to such tasks.

In the appendix, Patrice has also provided some ideas on how to group students (e.g. alphabteically, according to study programme, counting off), which will be an excellent resource for novice teachers and those wishing to ‘spice up’ their classroom groupings.

In general, I was aware of most of the activities presented here, often from business settings, but having concrete ideas for how they can be used in a classroom is very helpful. The book is targeted at secondary / post-secondary learners, but I feel some adult education class groups may dislike the nature of some tasks – I can imagine some of my adult learners (German businessmen!) feeling they’re a bit ‘childish’. Still, explaining the goals of the activity might help here, and especially the activities involving moving around or physically demonstrating group-work outcomes might also loosen up any tense or tired groups of adult learners, too.

In a nutshell: for novice teachers this collection of activities might provide new ideas, and, for any teacher, having them all collected in one place is very handy. The structure of the book is clear, the instructions are easy to follow, and overall this seems to be a convenient resource for teachers wanting to promote the development of useful skills for group work and for life!

What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Feedback on Academic Writing #researchbites

What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Feedback on Academic Writing #researchbites

In this article, Northcott, Gillies and Coutlon¬†explore their students’ perceptions of how effective online formative feedback was for improving their postgraduate academic writing, and aim to highlight best practices for online writing feedback.

Northcott, J., P. Gillies & D. Caulton (2016), ‘What Postgraduates Appreciate in Online Tutor Feedback on Academic Writing’,¬†Journal of Academic Writing, Vol. 6/1 , pp. 145-161.

Background

The focus of the study was on helping international master’s-level students at a UK university, for whom English is not their first/main language. The study’s central aim was investigating these students’ satisfaction with the formative feedback provided online by¬†language¬†tutors on short-term, non-credit-bearing ESAP writing courses. These¬†courses, run in collaboration¬†with subject departments, are a new provision at¬†the university, in response to previous surveys showing dissatisfaction among students with¬†feedback provided on written coursework for master’s-level courses. Participation is encouraged, but voluntary. ¬†The courses consist of five self-study¬†units (with tasks and answer keys), as well as weekly essay assignments marked by a tutor.

The ¬†essays are submitted electronically, and feedback is provided using either Grademark (part of Turnitin) or ‘track changes’ in Microsoft Word . The feedback covers both¬†¬†language correction and¬†feedback on aspects of academic writing. These assignments are effectively draft versions of sections of¬†coursework assignments students are required to write for the master’s programmes.

Research

The EAP tutors involved marked a total of 458 assignments, written by students in the first month of the master’s degrees in either Medicine or Politics. Only 53 students completed¬†all five units of the writing course; though 94 Medicine and 81 Politics students completed the first unit’s assignment.

Alongside the writing samples,¬†data was also collected¬†by surveying students at three points during the writing course, plus an end-of-course evaluation form.¬†Focussing on students who had completed the whole writing course, students’ survey responses were matched with their writing samples¬†which had received feedback, as well as the final¬†coursework assignment they submitted for credit in their master’s programme, for detailed analysis.

Findings

Analysing the feedback given by tutors, the researchers found both direct and indirect corrective feedback on language, as well as on subject-specific or genre-specific writing conventions and the academic skills related to writing. Tutors’¬†comments mostly refered to specific text passages, rather than being unfocused or general feedback.

Student engagement with feedback was evidenced by analysing¬†writing samples and final coursework: only one case was found where ‘there was clear evidence that a student had not acted on the feedback provided’ (p. 155). However, the researchers admit that, as participation in the course is voluntary, the students who complete it are likely to be those who are in general appreciative of feedback, thus this finding may not be generalisable to other contexts.

In the surveys, most students’ reported feeling that the feedback had helped them to improve their writing. They acknowledged¬†how useful the corrections provided were, and how the feedback could be applied in future. Moreover, comments demonstrated an appreciation of the motivational character of the feedback provided.

Summing up these findings, the researchers report:

It appeared to be the combination of principled corrective feedback with a focus on developing confidence by providing positive, personalised feedback on academic conventions and practices as well as language which obtained the most positive response from the students we investigated. (p. 154)

The¬†students’ comments generally show that they responded well to this electronic mode of feedback delivery, and also felt¬†a connection to their tutor, despite not meeting in person to discuss their work. As the researchers put it, students came to see¬†‘written feedback as a response to the person writing the text, not simply a response to a writing task’ (p. 156).

Take Away

The findings from this study highlight that simply using electronic modes of feedback delivery does not alone increase student satisfaction and engagement with feedback on their written work. Instead, the content and manner of the feedback given is key.

From the article, then, we can take away some tips for what kind of feedback to give, and how, to make electronic feedback most effective, at least for postgraduate students.

  • Start with a friendly greeting and refer to the student by name.
  • Establish an online persona as a sympathetic critical friend, ready to engage in dialogue.
  • Don’t only focus on corrective feedback, but aim to guide the student to be able to edit and correct their work autonomously, e.g. provide links to further helpful resources.
  • Be specific about the text passage the feedback refers to.
  • Tailor the feedback to the student’s needs, in terms of subject area, etc.
  • Give praise to develop the student’s confidence.
  • Take account of the student‚Äôs L1 and background.
  • Eencourage the student to respond to the feedback; especially if anything is unclear or they find it difficult to apply.

This post is part of ELT Research Bites 2017 Summer of Research (Bites) Blog Carnival! Join in here.

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

What library research skills training do EAP / undergrad students really need?

Colleagues and I have long since been aware of the lack of proper research and appropriate source use in our students’¬†EAP and academic essays. We decided to offer a one-hour workshop on¬†researching in the library at our university, and enlisted the help of an expert – the library representative for our subject area.

We thought it was a great idea!

But students were not so impressed. And their work didn’t improve much, either.

After the session, students’ feedback centred on the following points:

  • ¬†the session was quite like a lecture, but not very interactive or with any¬†opportunities for them to try things out for themselves1000px-Logic_Gates.svg.png
  • ¬†they were bored and confused by the explanation of possible search filters they could¬†implement with Boolean search strings
  • the MLA Bibliography they were introduced to “only gave them references but not the actual articles”
  • that “there weren’t (m)any books on their topic”
  • the searches of databases etc. don’t work “properly” at home.

So what do students new to library research really need to know?

  • What an academic text is.¬†(I recently asked MA-level students to bring in an academic journal article on our overall topic, and many of them turned up with texts from news sources like BBC, or from magazines like Time!)
  • The fact that searching a database of academic texts is not like an internet search; i.e. you shouldn’t ask the catalogue your question (“Ok google, what are the differences between British and American spelling?”), but search for keywords or tags related to the topic.
  • The fact that their specific topic may only be dealt with in a chapter within a book, which may not be searchable (unless the library has digitalised contents pages) and so they may need to search for more general terms.
  • The difference between bibliographies and databases.
  • The fact that¬†many published sources are not available for free on the internet and so you can only access the full texts if your institution subscribes to that publication and you access it through their server. (Yes, this might mean, dear students, that you will actually have to physically go into the library!)
  • The difference between reports of original (empirical) research and meta-studies or other summaries, and the importance of reading the primary work.
  • The importance of using up-to-date sources, especially in areas where research and understandings have developed significantly in recent years.
  • How to use keywords ¬†/ tags, and articles’ abstracts, or skim-reading, to judge¬†a source’s relevance and appropriateness for their work.
  • That something is not a fact just because it has been published – most academic work is about stance!books-1015594_960_720.jpg

And so, I’ve come to the conclusion that a one-hour session might not be the best way to introduce students to the academic research community. A¬†quick introduction to the specific institution’s library is a good idea, but that this clearly needs to be further supported within¬†our teaching.

Over to you!

What kinds of tasks and activities do you get your students to do to help them to develop and train their researching skills? Please leave your ideas and tips in the comments below!

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Much is said in published literature about the necessity of EAP students reading authentic academic texts, and also about providing scaffolding and support for them to do so. I believe lecturers and academic tutors teaching their subject content in English and/or on a CLIL-based approach will also need to help students digest the readings for their classes.

Still, I often hear complaints from teachers that they set preparatory reading, but then found in the lesson that students were unable to discuss or work with the ideas from the reading, despite their claims that they did actually read the text. 

One way I’ve found to help students engage with the texts they are asked to read, then, is what I call ‘Reading Support Worksheets’.¬†

Reading Support Worksheets can help students to focus on the parts of a text or the ideas and concepts mentioned, so that they are better prepared to discuss or work with these in their lessons. Also, directing students’ attention to what the tutor deems the key concepts, the things they want to focus on in their lessons, the reasons they chose this reading text, can ease the load on students to comprehend every detail in a text and perhaps ease their frustration at the time and effort needed to do so.¬†

So how do I set up a Reading Support Worksheet?

I¬†divide the text into manageable, logical sections, and pose questions or set¬†quick tasks to guide students in the notes they should make whilst reading each section. Here are some of the question and task types I’ve used so far:

  • What is the central claim presented in the introduction?
  • What are the guiding questions and approach that this article is working with? How are these justified?
  • Paraphrase the quote by xyz.
  • Summarise the overall argument / point of paragraph xyz.
  • What do these abbreviations stand for: x, y, z ?
  • Give examples of¬†xyz’s categories.
  • Copy the diagram/table on page x and add two more examples of your own.
  • Define xyz’s concept of xyz in your own words.
  • What are the key terms used by xyz?
  • On page x the example “xyz” is used to illustrate xyz. Explain the claim/theory/concept in your own words and add an example.
  • Note the break-down into 5 steps/categories here.¬†
  • Contrast xy’s idea/claim/theory with yz’s.
  • What is an xyz? Why is this important to understand?
  • Draw a diagram to illustrate xyz.
  • How to xy’s categories/ideas/key terms relate/compare to yz’s?
  • Make a time-line in note form, charting the development of xyz.
  • Name and describe in your own words two views on xyz.
  • What is special about xyz’s¬†model?
  • Outline some of the measures taken to address xyz.
  • What are the reasons stated to support the claim that xyz.
  • Draw a flow-chart illustrating the structure of this section of the article.
  • How is the data presented in this section? What central claim is the data used to support?
  • What data analysis method was used in this study, and why?
  • For each graph in this section, write down I) what it plots (i.e. what the x-axis and y-axis show) and II) what trends are illustrated by the data presented.
  • What do you know about the ‚Äúxyz‚ÄĚ mentioned here? (If not much ‚Äď find out more!)
  • Extension:¬†Choose one source from the bibliography of this article to read as your next source on input on our topic xyz.

I believe that this type of scaffolding helps the students to get to grips with the content of a text at a mainly descriptive level, leaving activities which require higher-order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation for the lesson time.

Of course, the number of questions or tasks should be suitable for the length of text – remember, students should have the feeling that the worksheet is helping them to digest the text, and not adding extra work!

In EAP, questions or tasks can be added to get students to focus on the langauge or other academic skills as they are demonstarted in the text. For example:

  • Write the bibliography entry for this text.
  • Why do you think the title of this section is pluralised?
  • Find transition words/phrases in this section that show xyz. Note their position within the sentence.
  • Find synonyms in this section which mean x, y, z.

Why not try it yourself? You can share your questions/tasks in the comments below, and let me know how it works out with your students!

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

“Achieving Phonology’s Potential in the ELT Classroom”

   РA very inspiring talk by Adam Scott on 5th April at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow. 

In his talk, Adam presented his manifesto, a call to arms, to bring about a shift towards higher awareness of the importance of phonology in ELT. He’s convinced that we will experience ‘learning by doing’ and gain new insights¬†into phonology and techniques for teaching it, if we just start teaching it! Here’s what he said:

More phonology – Why?

It can motivate students to understand phonology and the ‘mysterious’¬†relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

Discussing pronunciation as a group can help make teachers more responsive to students’ needs.

Having students tackle misunderstandings due to pronunciation can make classroom interaction more authentic and closer to real-world conversations.

It trains processing and noticing, and allows a focus on what causes communication to break down (rather than focussing on an idealised accent).

Adding feedback on pronunciation etc. can generate more learning at any stage of a lesson.

Chunking grammar as connected speech phrases can aid recall; it is more efficient for memory as the sound shapes and grammatical patterns will be stored together.

More phonology – How?

Have a pronunciation sub-aim which fits in with the other aims of the lesson/tasks, on either receptive or productive skills.

Include plenty of well-contextualised examples of the use of spoken language in lessons.

Approach phonology in a way that promotes collaboration with and between students.

Stop being the interpreter for students! Encourage them to work with and in the language together, e.g. get them to ask each other if they don’t understand something someone has said.

During discussions, etc., identify the pronunciation issues students find most difficult and that most hinder comprehension, to work on these in specific pronunciation practice tasks.

Give specific feedback, not only on the pronunciation of individual words, but also on other phonological features of connected speech such as linking, stress, etc. Immediate feedback can also help other students to learn from one person’s difficulty.

Help students to forge the link between visual and audio representations of words; they should Look (at the written word), Listen and Repeat (model pronunciation).

Help students to process new sound patterns not found in their L1, by mapping the sounds onto the complex English spelling system, e.g. with the IPA or phonics.

Pairwork requires mutual intelligibility Рand the teacher can monitor both task progress and phonological features that allow mutual comprehension.

Recycle tasks that were used for another purpose by creating a pronunciation/phonological focus, e.g. on contrastive stress, phrasal verbs vs verbs + prepositions.

Hot tip: Put the IPA transcription of new words above / in front of the written form of the word, so that it gets students’ main attention.

Hot tip: Use underlining to show which letters together make one sound in a word, e.g. s a nd w i ch e s

Conclusion

These tips show that it is easy to fit more phonology in to our current teaching practice; it¬†means minimal extra work for teachers, but could lead to great pay offs! Adam is¬†advocating the need for innovation in L2 pronunciation teaching, and after this talk, I’m very much inclined to agree!

Adam’s slides are available here from his highly recommendable website: teachadam.com

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Competency-based planning and assessing

Competency-based planning and assessing

Earlier this week, I attended a workshop on competency-based (or competency-oriented) planning and assessing held by Dr Stefan Brall at Trier University, and would like to share some of the insights here.

The workshop was aimed at university-level teachers from various subject areas, and so concentrated generally on Competency-Based Education (CBE). According to Richards and Rogers (2001), the principles of CBE can be applied to the teaching of foreign languages (-> CBLT: Competency-Based Language Teaching), making the topic of interest to ELT professionals.

What is a competency?

In everyday language, we talk of people being ‘competent’ when they have¬†the¬†knowledge, qualification(s), or capacity to fulfil the expectations of a particular situation. They have the ability to apply the relevant skills appropriately and¬†effectively. In the area of education, then, these skills are the individual competencies that students need to acquire and develop. Another important distinction here is between declarative knowledge, the theoretical understanding of something, and procedural knowledge, the ability to actually do it. In language teaching, I would argue, our focus is necessarily on¬†the procedural side of things, on getting students to be able to actually¬†communicate in the target langauge.¬†The overarching goal of ¬†CBLT is for learners to be able to apply and transfer this procedural knowledge in various settings, appropriately and effectively.

Literature on CBE explains how the approach can enhance learning, by

  • Focusing on the key competencies needed for success in the¬†field
  • Providing standards for measuring performance and capabilities
  • Providing frameworks for identifying learners’ needs
  • Providing standards for measuring what learning has occurred

What are key competencies?

In the realm of tertiary education, a useful study to look at here is the Tuning Project. This is an EU-wide study which explored the most important competencies that students should develop at university. Although the specific ranking of the competencies may be debated, some of the capabilities that came out as very important include: the application of theory, problem solving, the adaptation of procedural knowledge to new situations, analytical thinking, synthesising information, and creativity (Gonzalez & Wagenaar, 2003). These kinds of skills are those often found at the top ends of taxonomies of learning. Compare, for example, with Bloom’s taxonomy:

bloom

Other taxonomies of learning use comparable sequential units to describe cognitive learning. For example, the SOLO model (Structure of Observed Learning Outcome, see Biggs & Tang, 2007) includes a quantitative phase of uni-structural and multi-strucutal learning (e.g. identyfing, describing, combining), and then a quantitative phase of relational (e.g. comparing, analysing causes, applying) and extended abstract learning (e.g. generalising, hypothesising). Seeing these important skills in a hierarchically organised scheme highlights how they build upon each other, and are themselves the products of mastering many sub-skills or competencies.

In language teaching, people have long since spoken of “the four skills”, i.e. skills covering the oral, aural, reading and writing domains. To this we might also add learning competencies. In CBLT, language is taught as a function of communicating about concrete tasks; learners are taught the langauge forms/skills they will need to use in various situations in which they will need to function. Scales such as the Common European Reference Framework for Languages help to break down these skills¬†into distinct competences, whereby learners move up through the levels of mastery in each skill area, from elementary performance in a competency to proficient performance.

cefr

Competency-based Learning Outcomes

If we take scales of learning as the foundation for our planning, then, formulating statements of learning outcomes becomes quite a straightforward process. We will of course need to know the current level and needs of our students, especially in terms of competencies still to be learnt and competencies requiring further development. Associated with such learning taxonomies, we can easily find lists of action verbs which denote the skills associated with each developmental level of thinking skills. Based on the SOLO model, for example, we might find the following verbs:

Level Verbs
Uni-structural learning (knowledge of one aspect) count, define, find, identify, imitate, name, recognize, repeat, replicate
Multi-structural learning  (knowledge of several, unconnected aspects) calculate, classify, describe, illustrate, order, outline, summarise, translate
Relational learning (knowledge of aspects is integrated and connected) analyse, apply, compare, contrast, discuss, evaluate, examine, explain, integrate, organise, paraphrase, predict
Extended abstract learning (knowledge transferred to new situations) argue, compose, construct, create, deduce, design, generalize, hypothesise, imagine, invent, produce, prove, reflect, synthesise

Based on our understanding of students’ current learning levels, students’ needs, and the general framework within which our lessons/courses are taking place (in terms of contact time, resources, etc), and with these action verbs, we can then formulate realistic learning goals. In most cases, there will be a primary learning outcome we hope to reach, which may consist of several sub-goals – this should be made clear.

For example, an academic writing course aimed at C1-level students (on the CEFR) might set the main learning outcome as:

By the end of this course, students should be able to produce a coherent analytical essay following the Anglo-American conventions for the genre.

A couple of the sub-goals might include:

  • Students should be familiar with Anglo-American essay-writing conventions and able to apply these to their own compositions.
  • Students should¬†understand various cohesive devices and employ these appropriately within their writing.
  • Students should understand the functions of Topic Sentences and Thesis Statements and be able to¬†formulate these suitably in their own writing.¬†

Formulating clear learning outcomes in this way, and making them public, helps students to reflect on their own progress and may be motivating for them, and helps teachers to choose activities and materials with a clear focus, as well as helping to devise assessment tasks and grading rubrics.

Competency-based Assessment

Of course, most teachers will need to aim for economical assessment, in terms of time and resources. As far as possible, CBE advocates on-going assessment, so that students continue to work on the competency until they achieve the desired level of mastery. Competency-based assessment may thus require more effort and organisation on the part of the assessor – but it is able to provide a more accurate picture of students’ current stage of learning and performance.

Take multiple-choice tasks, for example; they can be marked very economically, but in reality they tend only to test the lower-level thinking skills, which may not have been the¬†desired learning outcome. To test competency-based learning, we need to base our assessment tasks on the learning outcomes we have set, perhaps using the same action verbs in the task¬†instructions. The focus is shifted to learners’ ability to demonstrate, not simply talk theoretically about, the behaviours noted in the learning outcomes. Still, especially in the realm of langauge teaching, there are some tasks we can easily set in written assignments which will also allow us to assess the higher levels of competencies more economically than oral presentations or practical assignments. If our learning outcome is the ability to apply a theory, for example, we could set a question¬†such as ‘Describe a situation that illustrates the principles of xyz‘. Or, if we want to assess whether learners can discuss and evaluate, we might set a task like ‘Explain whether¬†and why you agree or disagree with the following statement.‘ These kinds of tasks require learners to apply their acquired or developed¬†competencies on a more qualitative level.

To enable¬†objective¬†assessments of students’ learning, we will need to devise a matrix based on the various levels of mastery of the competencies detailed in the learning outcomes. As a basis, we might start with something like this:

Grade Description
A An outstanding performance.
B A performance considerably better than the average standard.
C A performance that reaches the average standard.
D Despite short-comings, the performance just about reaches the minimum standard required.
E Because of considerable short-comings, the performance does not reach the minimum standard required.

For each sub-skill of the competencies we are aiming for students to achieve, we will need to state specifically, for instance, which ‘short-comings’ are ‘considerable’, e.g. if the students cannot demonstrate the desired level of mastery even with the tutor’s assistance.¬†Also, it is important in CBE and CBLT that students’ performance is measured against their peers, especially to ascertain the ‘average standard,’ and not against the mastery of the tutor.

To¬†return to the essay writing, example, a student’s composition might receive a B grade on the sub-competence of using cohesive devices if they employ several techniques to create cohesion¬†in their work, but occasionally use one technique where another might be more effective. A student’s essay might receive a D grade on this competency if they¬†repeatedly use the same cohesive device, or employ the¬†techniques indiscriminately and¬†inappropriately. An E grade might mean that the student has not tried to employ any cohesive devices. In this manner, the primary learning outcome is broken down into sub-skills, on which students’ performance can be objectively measured using a detailed grading matrix.

In a nutshell, then, CBE and CBLT aim for ‘Yes we can!’ rather than ‘We know’. Competency-based teaching and learning have become a staple in further education and language instruction in many places around the world. If you would like to implement the approach in your own classrooms, I hope this post has given you some useful insights on how to do so!

References

Biggs, J. & C. Tang, Teaching for Quality Learning at University (Maidenhead: Open University, 2007).

Brall, S., “Kompetenzorientiert planen und pr√ľfen”, Workshop at Trier University, 21.2.17.

Gonzalez, J. & R. Wagenaar, Tuning Educational Structures in Europe: Final Report Phase One (Bilbao, 2003)

Richards, J.C. & T.S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Cambridge: CUP, 2001).

“What is the CEFR?”, English Profile, Cambridge University Press, http://www.englishprofile.org/the-cefr, accessed 24.2.17