Tag: principles

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!

Introducing #tleap

Introducing #tleap

TLEAP: Teaching & Learning in EAP

Issues in EAP Discussion Group

tleap

#tleap is an active online community of EAP professionals who discuss issues and share ideas regarding English for academic purposes. The members are EAP teachers and others who are interested in this area of language teaching, from adjunct tutors to full-time lecturers, and even materials writers and policy makers. The purpose of the #tleap community is to discuss relevant pedagogical, logistical, and research-based issues with others, and to give those involved in EAP a voice that may otherwise go unheard.

#tleap evolved from the #EAPchat Twitter hashtag set up by Tyson Seburn, Adam Simpson, and Sharon Turner, and has now spread across a variety of social media platforms, also thanks to Kate Finegan, to enable and encourage wider participation. You can join in for free here:

Twitter: #tleap

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/tleap/

Google+https://plus.google.com/communities/114679086713772400315


#tleap hosts biweekly discussion on Facebook: A focussed discussion point is posted on the 1st and 15th of every month. Please feel free to add your ideas to it and share widely. If there’s something you’d like to discuss, please add to this list: http://bit.ly/1OnYoWM.

16831997_10154781603762489_7689240778587431825_n.jpg#tleap also hosts bimonthly discussion chats on Twitter- look out for the next one!

The chat and discussion archievs are freely available, along with more information on the #tleap community, here http://tiny.cc/tleap

#tleap thrives on the contributions of members! You can start a new post on any of the paltforms anytime you have a question or wish to share something relevant for the group. Comments are always welcome on all posts.  With any blog, research article, or question, you can also always add the #tleap hashtag to your tweets to get everyone in our community to notice and engage.

We would love to welcome new members to the #tleap community, so please join in and share #tleap with your colleagues!

We look forward to hearing from you!

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 prüfen”, 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

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then adding their individual answers to the “other side’s” poster.

IMAG0051[1].jpgTo share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I’ve decided to type up the questions and answers here on my blog. So let’s start with the questions posed by editors and publishers:

  • How regularly would you like to have contact with the editor(s) of a project you’re working on? And what’s the best way to keep in touch?

– by email, or phone calls at pre-arranged times.

– by email, not via CMS!

  • What makes a schedule achieveable?

– advanced planning

– involve writer in negotiating deadlines

– time of year – respect teachers’ other commitments during term time

  • What characterizes the optimal brief?

– sample of how material should be submitted, or a template

– realistic and clear

– not too many stakeholders

– best to talk through together, not just send document

  • How can we help you find out more about the target audience?

– provide contact o teachers/schools/advisors

– set up focus groups

– provide info on curriculum, or previously published materials

  • How can we encourage teachers to use our materials?

– poss. make videos of example lessons showing how the materials can be employed or adapted

– specific materials in terms of students’ content learning (rather than general textbooks), e.g. for us on literature/linuistics/culture studies

– make mix & match units available

– attractive design for learners – put less on a page instead of cramming in as much as possible

– make them adaptable

– provide pdfs

  • What can a publisher or an editor do to make you want to keep working for them (besides pay you lots of money)?

– regular work

– reasonable workload & deadlines

– no projects at busy times of year

– pay in advance for work, rather than on the basis of books sold

– make communication as efficient as possible

– show appreciation & respect for writers’ time and work

IMAG0046[1].jpg

Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the editors’/publishers’ perspective? Or answers to these questions from a teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

My Principles for Creating ELT Materials

 

I make a lot of worksheets and materials available via this blog, which I hope  that many fellow ELT professionals will use and evaluate. In my opinion, though, it’s important that anyone who wants to use my materials has some insight into the principles behind my work.

I believe Materials for ELT should…

  1. be based on an understanding of how learning works. – i.e. of theoretical models of learning, for example from SLA or psychology, and methodologies derived from them.
  2. guide learners to discover and practice language items and skills. – i.e. not just ‘tell’, but ‘show’ and allow space for learners to notice by themselves, by guiding them in logical steps.
  3. lead to as authentic communication as possible. – i.e. they should learn to do with things in English which they are realistically likely to have to do outside of the classroom.
  4. gain and maintain learners’ interest. – e.g. by involving higher-level thinking skills, provoking affective responses, dealing with topics relevant to the learners.
  5. expose learners to ‘taboo’ topics (PARSNIPs) in a constructive manner. – i.e. to prepare them for and encourage open discussion of potential taboos and cultural difference, in order to develop inter-cultural communicative competences; especially since a key motivation to learn English is to communicate with people form other countries (and therefore cultures).
  6. allow for differentiated ouput. – i.e. grade the output, not necessarily the input, so the same material can be flexibly employed with various groups of learners working at different levels or focusing on different skill areas by simply adjusting the output tasks accordingly.

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