Category Archives: Differentiation

Monitoring class activities

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Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc

 

Dictionary definitions of monitoring include:

To check the quality or content of something.

To keep track of systematically with a view to collecting information.

To keep close watch over; supervise.

Classroom monitoring can, I think, involve all of these aspects, and doing it well is a key teaching skill. We’ve all seen (or probably been) teachers who either breathe down students’ necks, making them desperately uncomfortable, or who wander off and start doing admin tasks at the back of the room (though the latter might just be monitoring very subtly!)

Monitoring to check the activity

As students start a task, it’s very important to check they know what they’re doing and that they are able to do it. So, although you might want to back off in order to make them feel less self-conscious, you probably need to at least subtly look around and see if people are on-task. Listen in unobtrusively, perhaps while doing those admin tasks, and make sure they’re ok. If one pair or group is uncertain about what to do, go and help them. If more than one pair or group is uncertain, I’d advise against going round and helping them all. It’ll take too long, and waste precious time for those waiting to see you. This is how I failed my O level maths (that, and too much gossiping).  Just stop the activity and set it up again. And this time, check your instructions.

This kind of monitoring is simply pragmatic, and about helping things to run smoothly. It’s most important at the beginning of a task, but you can also do this kind of monitoring while a task is in progress to see if a group have finished early, if they need more support or more challenge and so on. Especially if you’re teaching young learners, you can also assess if they are starting to tire of the activity, and if you need to swiftly bring it to a close before all hell breaks loose.

Monitoring to assess language and/or skills

The other main reason for monitoring is to assess the language the students are producing (or their skills). This is vital if you want to be able to use your skills to actually help students develop. If you aren’t listening or paying attention, how can you possibly have any idea what they can do, or what they still need help with? “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, of course, students are still able to listen to each other, and to themselves, but I hope you get my point.

How?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the secret handshakes that Masons are supposed to use to recognise each other? There’s a secret way that trainers who were trained up at International House (IH) can do this too….they crouch. Well, maybe not all of us, but I’ve recognised a few fellow ex-IHers this way. The idea is that by getting down on the students’ level, you’re less obtrusive and threatening. I think there’s something in this, but if students aren’t used to it, it can be a bit discombobulating for them (I knew I’d get to use that word in a blog post one day!)

It also isn’t great if you’re wearing a shortish skirt.

Being unobtrusive is important, however. You could try sitting at a short distance and looking elsewhere while your ears work overtime. If you really want to freak them out, look at one pair while listening to another, and then comment on what the second pair said. In a smallish class, it can also work quite well to sit on a chair in the middle of the room and lean forward. It signals that you’re listening, but isn’t too (literally) in your face. If students are writing, you’ll need to get closer. Try walking behind as these means they don’t have to stop what they’re doing and turn their book round to show you. It also helps to learn to read at strange angles.

Try not to get too involved with a group as this means you can’t tell what’s going on elsewhere. This can easily turn into small group teaching, while the rest of the class feel ignored, get bored, start throwing paper aeroplanes…. This (small group teaching, not throwing paper aeroplanes) might be OK in some circumstances, though. For example, with a longer project-like activity, once you are SURE everyone knows what they’re doing and can work independently.

What should you be listening for?

Obviously this depends on what the students are doing. Here are some suggestions.

Speaking tasks

Are they using the language you’ve been working on in class? Bear in mind that if they aren’t, it might be because you (or the coursebook writer) hasn’t designed the task very well.

Is the language you plan to focus on already being used naturally? If not, that will provide a ‘gap’ for you to feed language into later- as in task-based learning.

Can you identify a gap, or language they need to do the task more effectively? If so, make a note, teach it at the feedback stage, and then let them do the task again.

Grammar or vocab exercises

Monitoring should tell you which students are finding it easiest, and which are struggling. How many are struggling? (Do you need to deal with this whole class or on an individual basis?)

It’s also a great opportunity to think about who you are going to nominate at the feedback stage. You don’t want to put people on the spot [unless they really deserve it ;)] by asking for answers they don’t know. It can also be  a good idea to give a weaker student a boost by nominating them when you know, from monitoring, that they’ve got the answer right.

After monitoring

As well as carrying out feedback on a task, or conducting an ‘error correction slot’ (where you write mistakes you heard on the board, anonymised and ask students to try and correct them), you could write down examples you heard of language which was particularly successful or useful.

Alternatively, you could choose not to feedback at that point, but to note down what you’ve learnt about their needs and plan a future lesson around them.

If they haven’t used the target language they were ‘supposed to be’ practising, you could take some examples of what they did say (which was correct), give praise for it, and then try to elicit other ways of saying it which do use the target language.

Or you could ask students to feedback on other aspects of the task- such as how well they worked together- and give them your own feedback on what you noticed.

If, on the other hand, you’ve just been filling in the register while they did the task, you can’t do any of these things…

 

 

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Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

The Icing on the Cake- free downloadable lesson

A free downloadable lesson based around another wonderful animated true story from http://www.storycorps.com. The conversation between a mother and daughter looks back on the family’s struggles as poor immigrants to the US, and how the daughter was inspired by her mother’s determination.

The lesson is  suitable from Pre-Intermediate +/A2+, particularly because the animation helps with comprehension. After watching and listening, there is a focus on impersonal pronouns/adverbs (something, anything, everyone.nowhere etc) and a discussion task which brings in more vocabulary to describe qualities we’d like to pass onto our children. Again, this could be adapted to lower and higher levels through the choice of vocabulary.

Download PDF here: ELT Resourceful – The Icing on the Cake

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Filed under Differentiation, Downloadable lesson materials, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, Grammar, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

How identifying the different roles we play can help groups work better together

Who are you?

This may seem an obvious question, but now try getting a pencil and writing down ten different responses to that question before you read on….

…If you look at your list, you might have listed your gender or ethnicity, and there may be some adjectives such as kind or artistic. You’re likely to see a set of roles that you play: teacher, manager, parent, son or daughter.

We all play different roles in different groups, and the classroom is no exception.

You are likely to take on different roles within your role of being a teacher: facilitator, critic, guide… But what about the roles your students take within the group?

Group theory (see, for example, Communicating in small groups: Beebe and Masterson) divides roles into three different types:

Task roles: roles that help a group carry out a task

Some examples

Initiator- contributor: proposes new or different ideas or approaches

Information seeker: asks for facts or clarification

Opinion seeker: Asks for values and opinions

Elaborator: provides examples

Orienter: attempts to summarise and keeps the group focused on the task

Maintenance roles: roles that help the group work smoothly together

Some examples

Encourager: Offers praise and acceptance

Harmoniser: mediates disagreements

Compromiser: attempts to resolve conflicts

Individual roles: these tend to be counter-productive to the group as a whole

Some examples

Aggressor: puts other people down

Blocker: negative, stubborn and difficult

Dominator: tries to take over the group

It is tempting to use these roles to start labelling your favourite (or least favourite students), but in fact, roles change all the time, and people can play many different roles. The point of exploring different roles is not to stereotype people or make them feel they should be carrying out a particular role, but to help the members of a group or class be aware of how they are all working together, and how that interaction could be improved.

Activities to raise awareness of group roles

The first two ideas are both ways for students to track interaction within a small group. This can be very useful for getting an overview of how the group is working.

  1. Put the students into groups of five or six. One person observes while the others carry out a speaking task. The observer draws circles on a piece of paper to represent each member of the group. They then listen and draw arrows each time someone speaks.  If one person speaks directly to another, draw an arrow between them. If someone speaks to the group as a whole draw an arrow away from the group. If someone is speaking for more than a few sentences at a time more than one arrow can be drawn.

At the end of the task, the observer should feedback to the group on what they observed, and the whole group can discuss the findings:

-          What do you notice about the lines of communication?

-          Were the lines of communication an effective way of carrying out the task? Why/why not?

-          Was everyone happy with the way they participated?

-          What things could the group change in the future?

This task is taken from Conversation: Nolasco and Arthur.

2 A similar, but perhaps more entertaining idea, comes from Classroom Dynamics: Jill Hadfield. Rather than having an observer, the group has a ball of wool or string. The person starting the speaking task holds the end, and then passes the ball to the next person to speak. This continues until the task has finished (I’d suggest quite a short task!). The pattern of interaction will be very clear at the end, demonstrated by the web of wool or string. Or possibly the students will actually start to change the pattern of interaction as they see that they are either taking over a bit too much, or not contributing very much.

After this kind of activity, you could go a step further and actually start to look at the different kind of roles students are taking. This needs to be done carefully though, to avoid singling people out for criticism.

Jill Hadfield suggests two activities which could both be handled sensitively:

1 Using a self-evaluation questionnaire. There is a photocopiable one in Classroom Dynamics, which includes questions such as:

-          Did you contribute any ideas?

-          Did you encourage anyone else to contribute any ideas?

-          Is there any way you could help the discussion to go better….by making a suggestion etc.

She suggests carrying out a speaking task, then asking students to complete the questionnaire individually and privately, then carrying out a second speaking task and finally discussing if and how the second speaking task was an improvement on the first one. (From personal experience I can tell you that this process can be completely transformational.)

2 Observing group roles. In this activity, students carry out a speaking task and are observed. The observer ticks how many times various things (such as contributing an idea, interrupting, evaluating someone else’s idea, not talking in English) happen- but does not note down who did these things.  The group then looks at the results and decides which things are happening too often, and which not often enough. There isn’t necessarily a value judgement to these things. Contributing ideas is something we want to see happen, but if that’s ALL that’s happening, the group will not be working very smoothly! They then choose three things they should do more often and three things they should do less often.

Incidentally, although the observer in these tasks is not taking part, this can be a useful role for certain students. Students who tend to be very dominant can benefit from having to sit back and listen, and students who struggle to get a word in can benefit from having a clear role and being asked to feedback on what they observed.

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Filed under Differentiation, Speaking, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A new class: building a learning environment together

Many of us are starting new terms and working with new groups. We probably already know what the learners are expected to achieve in their time with us, and the pressure is on.

It’s tempting to dive straight in, but any new group will need to work through interpersonal issues before they can function effectively as a group (and as individuals within the group). We can ignore these issues, but that won’t make them go away; we’re just more likely to get our feet tangled in them, like weeds under the surface of the water.

In a central work on group dynamics in the classroom, Schmuck and Schmuck [no, it isn’t just you that finds their names amusing  :)], observe:

‘ Our research has shown that classroom groups with supportive friendship patterns enhance academic learning, while more hostile classroom environments reduce learning…informal group processes in the classroom can, and do, make a difference in the accomplishment of the formal goals of the school.’

So, what can we do to encourage more supportive patterns?

Getting to know you activities

First of all, pay more than lip-service to the ‘getting to know you’ activities. Language learning is a high risk activity in terms of losing face and the student surrounded by unfamiliar faces is likely to either withdraw or ‘act-out’ as a way of controlling the environment.

Names

It seems obvious, but make sure that everyone knows everyone else’s names. Rather than putting pressure on them to learn them, try a discussion activity about names. Some possible questions:

-          How did you get your name? Were you named for someone else? Who/why?

-          Does your name have a meaning?

-          Do you have a nickname (you are willing to share)? How did you get it? Who uses it?

-          Do you or other people shorten your name in any way? How do you feel about either the shortened name or the full name? (Many people feel they are going to be told off when someone uses their full name)

-          Do you like your name? Why/why not?

-          What would you like to be called in class?

This can be done in small groups, which either swap around, or feedback to the main group.

It goes without saying that you need to learn your student’ names as quickly as possible. A few tips:

-          Write down the names in the same layout as the students are seated (i.e. in a horseshoe) and refer to it often in the first class or so.

-          Use their names as much as possible to begin with.

-          When students are working on something mentally go round and test yourself on the names. Ask anyone you can’t remember to remind you (better now than in a month’s time)

-          Make a note next to each name of a distinguishing feature (e.g. curly hair).But be careful with this one….don’t write anything you wouldn’t want the student to see!

Find someone who…

This is a very well-known activity in some circles, so apologies if it’s too obvious, but it does work brilliantly. This is a variation which doesn’t require you to know anything about the students prior to the class, and ensures that students are comfortable about what is revealed (which can sometimes be a problem when this activity is done on CELTA courses, based on application forms!)

Put students into small groups (3-4) and ask them to think of three things to tell the other group members about themselves, which they are pretty sure will be new information.  They should take it in turns to give a piece of information, and the others should comment on it. Model this if necessary. While they are carrying out the activity, monitor and note down one fact about each student that you overhear.

Then dictate the facts to the class. E.g. Find someone who…

…has just been to Sweden on holiday.

…used to live in another country

Students will already know some of these from their small group work, but they can then mingle and ask others in the class, ‘Have you just been to Sweden?’ etc.  (no pointing at the sheet allowed)

Guess who?

This works better with groups which have worked together a little before. Each group member writes 2-3 sentences about themselves (anything they want to share). These are collected in and read aloud (by you or the students) and everyone writes down who they think each one refers to before the answers are revealed at the end.

An alternative is for 1 of 3 pieces of information to be a lie. In this version, we don’t have to guess who, but guess which piece of information is untrue.

Creating a sense of group identity

As well as getting to know each other better, we can also focus on creating a positive group identity.

Class Yearbook or Photo Album

Over the course of the year, a scrapbook (or the digital equivalent) is gradually built up by members of the class. You could begin with photos and a short bio about each member, then add updates as often as you and the class wish. This could cover what has been learnt, any social activities or trips, creative writing or articles, whatever seems appropriate.

At the end of the year, contact details could be added for those that wish to keep in touch if the group is breaking up, and maybe include a letter from the teacher about the experience of teaching the group.

Class history

(this idea comes from the wonderful Classroom Dynamics- Jill Hadfield)

Exactly how you do this will depend on the age range of your students. The idea is for each student to research a different year or other short period of time in the past and find out what everyone in the class did or was doing at that time.

After a mingle activity where they interview each other, the information can be put together on a time–line.  This is a great activity for working together and getting to know each other (not to mention using past tenses)

In my next post I plan to look at some activities for developing the class’s awareness of how groups work together and how they, individually, are contributing to the group. Feel free to sign up to be sent this post by email- button on the right.

 

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Drilling-based activities: preparation light, student generated ways to build fluency. What’s not to like?

Drilling

Drilling has certainly fallen out of favour in recent years. Strongly associated with the behaviourist approach it is often seen as non-communicative, boring, patronising…. A recent ELTChat on the subject brought up all the negatives, but also provided a long list of positive reasons for drilling. For example:

  • Building confidence
  • Helping learners get their tongues round new words
  • Picking up pace and getting students’ attention
  • Developing ability to produce (and understand) connected speech

And perhaps the key reason, for me at any rate: drilling or repetition is an important step towards fluency. Especially at lower levels, it is quite natural to rehearse (at least mentally) before tackling a speaking situation.  Repeating something helps us to ‘notice’ what we are repeating and assimilate it into our store of language. The ELTChat I referred to concentrated mostly on drilling words or single chunks. There are plenty of benefits to this, but in this post I want to concentrate on some techniques which are probably even more out of favour: drilling and repeating dialogues and narratives.

Dialogue builds

I did my CELTA so long ago that it wasn’t even called that then (!). It was also at IH in Cairo, which I rather suspect was a little behind the times in terms of materials. The result was that my initial training centred around the coursebook series Streamlines and Strategies. Lots of drilling and repetition.

One of the first techniques I learnt was a dialogue build. For the uninitiated, it goes like this: Set up the situation, using a photo (or in pre-IWB days two stick figures on the board). Elicit where the characters are, who they are, what’s happening and so on. This is often a service encounter (e.g. in a café), but can be anything you like.

Then you elicit the dialogue from the students, line by line. As you accept each line, you help learners correct it if necessary and then model the final version, with appropriate connected speech and intonation, getting the students to repeat it. You DON’T write the dialogue on the board, but do indicate where each line starts and who is speaking. You might also add question marks or little visual clues. As you go through the dialogue you keep returning to the start, getting students to keep repeating the dialogue, and thus memorising it. You can do this whole class, or divide the class into the number of characters or ask individuals to do each line. It’s good to have a bit of variety here.

Once the class knows the dialogue by heart, they can practise a little more in pairs, changing roles. You can also have a bit of fun with it by getting one of the characters to change their answers, so that the first person has to react spontaneously. (Good idea to model what to do first with lower level learners) Finally, you can elicit the dialogue once more, writing it onto the board so that the students have a clear written version. Alternatively, you could get students to come up and write it on the board, giving scope for some work on correcting spellings, missing articles and so on.

A dialogue build is a great technique to have up your sleeve for a last minute cover lesson. It’s obviously most appropriate for lower level learners, but could be done with more advanced students if the chunks of language elicited were more demanding. At the end of it, the students have memorised a whole set of (hopefully useful) chunks of language and can produce them fluently at will. Fluent speakers are essentially those who have enough chunks of language that they can stick together to keep going, so teaching chunks in this way is a real help.

It’s also an excellent activity to do with learners with low levels of literacy. I can’t understand why it isn’t an ESOL staple. You don’t need any equipment except a board and pens (great for those community halls), it doesn’t rely at all on reading and writing, it can be adapted for specific situations that learners might have to deal with (ringing for a doctor’s appointment, for example) and once it’s elicited onto the board it provides a copying activity where the meaning is already very clear (and was indeed student generated).

Alternative versions

Instead of eliciting the whole dialogue, you could give them one half or the dialogue (i.e. all that one person says) and elicit the missing responses. Then proceed as above. A good alternative for learners who can read quite well, is to start by writing the elicited dialogue onto the board. Drill as a class, making sure you are giving a good model of natural pronunciation, then ask learners to practise it in pairs. As they are practising, gradually wipe off words and lines from the dialogue. As it disappears, they have to remember more and more. Finally you can re-elicit it onto the board or get them to write it down on the board, or in pairs on paper. This could work equally well with a narrative.

Another old, but great, idea comes from Mario Rinvolucri’s book, Dictation. In this activity, you do the repeating (at least to start with) and the students listen and mime the actions. It works really well with younger learners, but if you have a lively class, adults could enjoy it too. Here’s the text (slightly adapted)

You’re standing in front of the Coke machine. Put your hand in your back pocket. Take out three 50p coins. Put them in one by one. You hear the machine click. Choose your drink and press the button. You hear a terrible groan from the machine. Clunk! A can drops down. Pick it up. Open the can. It squirts Coke in your face. Take a tissue out of your pocket. Rub your eye. Lick your lips. Take a sip. Burp!

First read the text right through, just to orientate students. Then read again and elicit a movement for each line. Get all the students doing it. Then read a third time with all the students doing all the movements.  You can make this stage fast as possible if you want a bit of fun. Then give the students a version of the text with most of it missing. They have to work together to recreate the text.

This is a form of dictogloss, but the difference is that doing the actions should help them to remember what’s missing. If they get stuck, get them to do the actions and try and remember that way. This is the stage at which they should be drilling the language themselves, as they try to recall it. You can obviously differentiate this activity by giving less of the text to more able students and vice versa. Finally you get the whole class to carry out the actions while saying the text (from memory).

All of these ideas are extremely preparation-light and student generated. They provide a way to help learners appropriate new chunks of language to their store, and the challenge of memorisation also provides interest and stimulation. Maybe it’s time for a revival?

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How we can use minimal pairs to help L2 listeners to decode what they hear.

At the weekend I was lucky enough to catch Sam Shephard’s lively session on pronunciation at the NATECLA conference in Liverpool. His session focused mostly on productive pronunciation, but as I was presenting on the same day on decoding skills for listening, I found myself thinking more about the role of pronunciation work in decoding- and specifically about minimal pairs.

When I first saw this advert for Berlitz language schools on youtube, I was struck with how clever it is.

But, apart from in this rather specific context, how important is it really that learners can understand or pronounce the difference between //θ/  / and /s /?

Minimal pairs, minimal importance?

It seems that misunderstandings in natural speech are rarely caused by the mispronunciation of one sound. Usually context gives us enough of a clue to understand what the speaker is trying to say. Adam Brown gives a good example in his 1995 article, Minimal pairs, minimal importance?:

‘Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world. However, it is a tiny island (the size of the Isle of Man) with a population of three million. Consequently, land is at a premium, and there are no animal farms. The nearest most Singaporeans come to sheep is mutton curry. In short, if Singaporeans don’t pronounce the distinction between ship and sheep clearly, the chances of misunderstanding are minimal: they are almost certain to mean ship.’

Similarly, Jenkins (2000) found that /θ/ rarely caused misunderstandings between NNSs, and she also points out that many native speaker varieties don’t use it anyway, often using /t/ or /f/.

So should we chuck out the minimal pairs work?

Can minimal pairs help L2 listeners decode more effectively?

Well, according to John Field (2008) there is evidence that L2 listeners process in words, but that ‘many of the matches they make are rough approximations that do not correspond exactly to the sounds that the listener heard.’ In other words an inability to recognise certain phonemes is leading to learners making inaccurate guesses about words, which in turn could lead them quite seriously off track as they apply top down skills to their guesses. For example, the listener who hears ‘screams’ instead of ‘screens’ is likely to go quite a way off track.

It is certainly true that context could help here- but that is making the assumption that learners are able to use their top down skills effectively when, Field and others argue, learners who are unable to decode effectively, usually can’t hold onto enough meaning to start stringing ideas together.

So, therefore, there is certainly an argument for using some minimal pair work, especially at lower levels- though we probably do need to be quite selective about which phonemes we choose to focus on.

Functional load

Sounds that carry a high functional load are used to distinguish between a significant number of words. The opposite is sounds which carry a low functional load. For example, Brown (1995 above) says that the only minimal pairs in English for /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ are:

Confusion/Confucian, azure/Asher, mesher/measure , allusion/Aleutian, glacier/glazier

I think we can probably all agree that the likelihood of students even using most of these words is pretty low, never mind getting them confused!

Minimal pairs with a high functional load would include:

/e/ and /ae/ , /p/ and /b/, /e/ and /I/

A full list is available in Brown 1988

Individual needs

With a monolingual group, it should be fairly straightforward to find out which pairs are causing the most problems. A book like Learner English can be helpful, or simple observation. Obviously with a mixed nationality group, tricky minimal pairs are likely to vary, but there are some which seem to be difficult for speakers of many different languages, and have a high functional load, such as /e/ and /ae/ and /ae/ and /ʌ/

Activity ideas

The first point to make is that ideally, learners should be able to see the link between the minimal pair work and what they are listening to. For example, if a number of learners have heard ‘scream’ instead of ‘screen’, that would be a perfect opportunity to do some minimal pair work on /m/ and /n/.

The second point is not to overload the learners. I wouldn’t suggest working on more than one pair of sounds at a time.

The third point (made by Field) is that ideally words used should be relatively frequent and of roughly equal frequency. So bin and pin would be OK, but perhaps not blade and played.

There are lots of ideas for working on minimal pairs (some of which came up in Sam’s session, mentioned above)

Some different ways for learners to show they can differentiate the two sounds:

  • Put the two words in each pair on different sides of the board and learners  put up their left hand/right hand according to which they think they hear.
  • Alternatively, learners can physically move to the right or left side of the classroom.
  • Put the words on cards and learners grab the right card, either in small groups with little cards, or with big (sturdy) cards, you can haver learners line up so one from each team is in front of the board and they race to grab the right word from there.
  • For a more sedate activity, learners write down what they think they hear.
  • Learners say if the words you say are the same or different.

Obviously all the activities above can be done with a learner providing a model, but then it becomes oral work, rather than listening, and they will need help to know how to make the sounds etc.

If learners have literacy issues, the above activities could potentially be done with pictures rather than words:

 

 

And if one of the words in the pair you want to use is not very frequent (e.g. played/blade), you could still do the activity but just write the frequent word on the board and ask ‘Same or Different?’

A more contextualised task, which would make the relationship to listening clearer, might be to select a phrase or short section from something they have listened to which contains a lot of the two sounds (not necessarily in minimal pairs) and ask them to mark the two phonemes.

E.g. ‘Looking after rabbits is really easy’ might work well for /r/ and /l/.

Individualised work

Clearly working on minimal pairs is much trickier with a multi-lingual class. As mentioned earlier, there are some vowel sounds which a lot of people find tricky. Alternatively,  learners could be given different sounds to work on, according to needs. There are now quite a few websites  (for example http://www.shiporsheep.com) where learners can listen to minimal pairs, so this kind of differentiated activity could be set as homework.

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The Language Experience Approach: a person centred, materials light approach to literacy

In a previous post, I talked about some criteria for selecting suitable reading texts to use with learners. Two key points are that texts need to be at the right level and that they need to be intrinsically interesting for the students.

Clearly, one way of achieving both these points is for the learners to produce the texts themselves. The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is a way of doing this, which has its roots in early literacy teaching. It dates back to the sixties and is fairly well known in ESOL circles, but not, I think in general ELT.

Overview of the LEA

1 Working together, the teacher and students choose a topic or activity which can be written up later. This might mean watching a video, taking a field trip or simply bringing in some pictures.

2 Carry out the activity or discuss the topic.

3 Discuss the experience or discussion and write some key words and phrases on the board.

4 The class works together to develop a written account. Typically the students dictate to the teacher, who writes it down. I say typically, because this is at root a literacy activity, so doesn’t assume that the students can write in English. In classic LEA, the teacher does not correct any mistakes or even elicit any corrections. However, I personally feel that for students’ whose first language isn’t English, providing or eliciting a correct model is vital at some stage in the process.

Of course, there is no reason why students who are able to write in English couldn’t work together in groups to write a text.

5 The teacher or a learner or all the learners read the text aloud to the class, and then everyone reads it again silently. This is another stage at which linguistic revisions might be made.

6 Extension activities.  Because the students have written the text themselves, they should be quite familiar with the meaning, even if they do not recognise all the words. At lower levels of literacy, students could:

-          Copy the story.

-          Word or sentence matching (match strips with words or sentences from the text with the text on the board)

-          Write down the story as the teacher dictates it.

-          Complete missing words which the teacher (or one of the students) has rubbed out.

-          Unscramble the sentences from the story (previously scrambled by the teacher)

At higher levels :

-          Students revise and edit the text themselves.

-          Use this text as a basis for writing their own personalised accounts

-          Use the vocabulary from this text to write a new text.

Of course if you have both more and less proficient readers/writers in your class (very common in ESOL), the students could do different tasks with the same text.

The beauty of the LEA is that it is firmly learner centred, using the students’ own experiences as the basis of the work,  and can provide a sense or achievement for every student in the class, at very mixed levels. It is also very materials light, and requires little preparation.

I am sure that there is plenty of room for variations on the LEA and would be interested to hear your ideas.

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Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology

#ELTChat summary on Multiple Intelligences 07/03/12

This is a summary of the first ELT Chat on Wednesday 7th March 2012 about Multiple Intelligences.
#ELTChat takes place on Twitter every Wednesday at 12pm and 9pm BST www.eltchat.com
Shaun Wilden kicked off by giving us a link to the Wikipedia page on Multiple Intelligences. The link is below, but basically, it’s a theory proposed by Howard Gardner in the 1980s, which says that rather than there being just one kind of intelligence, there are different kinds of intelligence:
• Spatial
• Linguistic
• Logical-mathematical
• Bodily-kinesthetic
• Musical
• Interpersonal
• Intrapersonal
• Naturalistic
• Existential
(The last two were added at a later date)
The first part of the discussion mostly centred around whether MI theory had now been discredited, to what extent people believed in it and to what extent it was practised.
The overall view seemed to be that people were little sceptical about the scientific basis, but agreed that it was important to recognise that people learn in different ways, and to provide a variety of activities:

@louisealix68: think it’s good as T to know we all learn diff.(I’m visual) in order 2 help kids with learning strats best 2 them
@rliberni: yes agreed I think the idea of varying activities etc is imp and MI would help to highlight that
@breathyvowel: Yup but for me the varying comes first, and the relevance to MI is more or less incidental

@esolcourses also suggested that it might be impractical or unnecessary to devote too much time to individual differences when students actually had a lot in common. And other people suggested some drawbacks to focusing on MI:

@OUPELTGlobal: I think tchers should be careful of labelling their sts – different sts can use
different ints at different times.
@michaelegriffin: Just sort of the cultiness of MI puts me off. I am with @Marisa_C about
much of it just being sensible
@kevchanwow: agree that a wide range of activities is necessary to keep students involved. But does MI offer the right framework?

Several people felt that, irrespective of whether the science actually stood up, there was a benefit in discussing multiple intelligences with students so that they would be aware of different ways of learning and able to ‘play to their strengths’ (@OUPELTGlobal)

@kevchanwow: MI as a means for students to discuss how they learn. An exercise in empathy and to realize that there are many ways to learn and that it is OK to be (learn) different
@samshep: we cn be interested in how ss learn w/out labelling them. Also shd encourage thm to try diff things & expand capabilities
@kevchanwow recognizing what brings our students joy and how where they excel is key for rapport. But does MI help us do that?

There was also seen to be a benefit in teachers at least considering MI, so that they would not assume that all learners learnt the same way (or the same way the teachers did)

It was questioned whether MIs needed to be formally assessed, but @Marisa_C suggested a possible test for anyone who wanted to do so, the Barsch Learning Styles Inventory, available online. @worldteacher also provided a short MI quiz (see below)
@ louisealix68 mentioned Thomas Armstrong (link below) as a good place to go for more information on MI.

People started to discuss other systems of learning styles:
@samshep surely multiple intelligences is just learning styles dressed in different clothes w same pitfalls and questions.
@shaunwilden: @samshep I agree and there are far too many learning styles models out there, can get very confusing :-)
@teflerinha asked whether people felt that multisensory learning (link below), which has some crossover with MI, was particularly suitable for YLs. It was generally agreed that it was, though the point was made by @worldteacher that it could also apply to adults.
@louisealix68 raised the question of whether males had different learning styles to females. @breathyvowel commented: I definitely find that the atmosphere changes with gender balance, so perhaps unconsciously yes and @teflerinha commented: Thnk gender cn affct way class interacts. Once had all male CELTA & all activities finished superfast.

A little later there was also discussion of naturalist and existential intelligences and how these might be accommodated. @teflerinha made the point that existential or spiritual intelligence was becoming a big thing in coaching and business training(essentially about connecting with your inner wisdom and with others) and @leoselivan suggested that naturalist intelligence lent itself well to categorising and ordering tasks.

@cherrymp commented that perhaps Emotional Intelligence was more important to cultivate than MI (“the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups”.)

@Marisa_C asked for examples of MI based activities which had been used successfully:
@teflerinha: Extended project type work tends to be good for MI I think as there are a variety of tasks
@louisealix68: e.g. use running dictation for kinsaesthetic. Dictogloss = linguistic/math
@esolcourses: Online drag and drop picture quizzes on my website 4 spacial intel. – work well as ind. or group activities. http://t.co/DwwK3BTV
@louisealix68: learn vocab=rote (music); organise alphabetically – math; read/cover = ling
@rliberni: used to do dictation in teams with paper up on wall 1st grp to complete with all correct won
@teflerinha: And giving ss the opportunity to work alone as well as in pairs or groups- for intrapersonal learners
@michaelegriffin: Drawin’, movin’, clappin’ actin’, connectin’, solvin’ (puzzles),
@OUPELTGlobal : Asking sts whon learn visually to find their own images for texts, adds to their understanding/learning of the text

There was a questions from @SueAnnan as to whether MI meant more planning. Some comments:
@leoselivan: no but it does require thinking on your feet sometimes. I think if a T is aware u
don’t need to spend MORE time planning
@teflerinha: Not so much a lot of prep as bearing it in mind when choosing activity types I
think
@shaunwilden: No cos it is everyday teaching anyway :-)
@OUPELTGlobal: I don’t think so. Once I was aware of them, and my sts too, we sort of
helped each other. Awareness is very important!
But @SueAnnan made the point that, while she agreed to an extent, she had seen ss turned off by non traditional activities. @michaelegriffin agreed, ‘I think that is a very good point and quite common… Like “why are we drawing in English class???!?!” “Give me verbs!”’
@SophiaKhan4suggested that it was ‘sometimes hard to go out of your own comfort zone when choosing activities tho’ and @NikkiFortova agreed ‘@SophiaKhan4 so so true, but if we don;t go out of our comfort zone from time to time, we don’ t learn @shaunWilden said that ‘thats only natural isn’t it, if we have a class we need to cater to all which might mean some are happy when others aren’t.’

Perhaps a good conclusion would be @shiftparadigm’s comment,’ In practice, might a good place to start be recognizing and accommodating a student’s strengths?’

List of useful links (please let me know if any don’t work)

Link to Wikipedia page on MI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences (@ShaunWilden)
Link to Thomas Armstrong’s webpage http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.php
Link to Barsch Learning styles inventory http://t.co/2W7ckOep (@Marisa_C)
Link to MI Quiz http://t.co/zqOgEMKN (@worldteacher)
Link to Howard Gardner’s book on Googlebooks http://t.co/0TagR8U6 (@Marisa_C)
Link to info on multisensory learning (VAK) http://tlp.excellencegateway.org.uk/tlp/pedagogy/assets/documents/qs_multi_sensory_learning.pdf (@teflerinha)
Link to VARK learning styles http://t.co/ct36VJSi @rliberni)
Link to Bonnie Tsai, interesting speaker on MI http://t.co/ly1oLHQb (louisealix68)
Whole set of links on MI http://cybraryman.com/multipleintel.html (@cybraryman1)
Googlebooks link to Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom http://t.co/oBKyBZlc (@marisa_C)
Link to page on Multiple Intelligences http://t.co/AcfXd99B (@cherrymp)
Link to Multiple Intelligences lesson plans http://t.co/CKyTfbx7 (@cherrymp)
Link to a whole list of learning styles resources, diigo by @carldowse http://www.diigo.com/list/carldowse/learning-styles (@SueAnnan)
Link to article on Integrating MI in ESL/EFL classrooms http://t.co/vrtkdLon (@worldteacher)
Link to MI lesson plan http://t.co/ae3xEz66 (@shaunWilden)
Link to Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences and Education http://t.co/tpleDJxb (@cherrymp)
Link to an interactive version of Blooms Taxonomy, revised for 21st Century http://t.co/q2IApHij (@nikkiFortova)

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Filed under Differentiation, ELT Chat summaries

Assessment for Learning: a new way to meet individual learner needs?

They say that there is nothing new under the sun (especially not in teaching?) but the notion of Assessment for Learning (as opposed to assessment of learning)is a big buzzword in mainstream education in the UK and there are plenty of ideas which we can apply to ESOL and ELT.

The idea of AfL originated from a booklet by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment. In this, and subsequent books and papers, they focus on four main ways of helping students to become more independent learners and to individualise learning:

  •  Questioning techniques
  • Feedback methods
  • Sharing criteria
  • Self  and peer assessment

Questioning techniques

I suspect that questioning is something which the average ESOL/ELT teacher already knows more about than Wiliam and Black assume. In my experience, a lot of teaching in our field(s) takes place through asking the right questions, whereas they seem to think that most teachers are asking closed questions to check knowledge. Having said that, I think it is still an area where further development may be useful.

Some approaches/activities you could try:

  • Opening up ideas by asking other students to comment on what has been said, rather than commenting on it yourself.
  • Bouncing questions around, so you nominate one student to answer another’s question.
  • Get students to put up their hands to ask a question, rather than to answer one.
  • Ask students to write down questions at the end of a lesson about what still confuses them. These could go into a box for you to look at when planning the next lesson, or they could be redistributed for small groups to answer.
  • Ask why rather than just accepting an answer. This is particularly important, I think, when going through the answers to, say, a reading comprehension or a gapfill.

And my personal long time favourite: increasing wait time after you have asked a question. In Assessment for Learning: Putting it into practice, Black et al report that teachers who increased wait time found that:

-          Answers were longer

-          Failure to respond decreased

-          Responses were more confident

-          Students challenged and/or improved the answers of other students

-          More alternative explanations were offered.

Feedback methods

This refers to both giving students feedback on their work and on getting feedback as to how well each student is doing.

In terms of the first category, one of the big points made by AfL is that writing comments on students’ work is much more effective than grades. In fact, their research showed that a group of students given only comments improved noticeably, whereas the other two groups given either grades only or both comments and grades, did not.  Of course, the comments have to be helpful and specific about exactly what the student has to do to improve.

In terms of getting feedback on how each student is doing, there are two basic themes. One, which will be familiar I am sure, is getting students to work in pairs and groups so that the teacher can monitor and assess. The other may be less familiar and involves a few nice little techniques:

  • Using miniwhiteboards for students to write answers on and then hold up. If everyone is facing the front, peers will not be able to see who has written what, but the teacher can.
  • Giving each student laminated A,B and C cards, so that they can hold up the answers to multiple choice questions in the same way.
  • Using signals to indicate to the teacher how well they feel they have understood. These could be  ‘traffic light’ red, amber or green cards (green for I am sure I have got this to red I haven’t a clue what you’re on about

Sharing criteria

In the ELT/ESOL context, the idea of sharing the criteria you use may not be that new. As a reminder though, some of the ideas in AfL may be useful:

  • Using models of what you want students to achieve. This obviously applies to writing, but could also apply to speaking, with recordings of native speakers or more proficient students doing the same task. These models can be analysed by the students, using the criteria.
  • Letting students decide on what they think the criteria for assessment should be, or negotiating it with them.

Self and peer assessment

Again, this is something which I think is quite common in ESOL/ELT classrooms, but it is given a lot of emphasis in AfL. Possible ideas:

  •  Two stars and a wish (may be better for Yls). Students peer assess using two stars to say two good things about the work and a wish to identify something which could be improved (further)
  • Students identify what they think is their best piece of work, and say why.
  • Using learning journals to set targets and self evaluate.

If you wish to find out more about AfL, either of the publications mentioned above would be a good place to start. I’d be very interested to hear any comments on any of these approaches, and whether this kind of approach is popular in your context (and of course why or why not ;) )

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Filed under Differentiation

Simple ways to differentiate materials for mixed level classes

I love this picture..they’re all eggs, but just look at the variety. And it’s the same in any class.

Differentiation can be defined as:

“….identifying and addressing the different needs, interests and abilities of all learners to give them the best possible chance of achieving their learning goals.”

(Standards Unit, Improving differentiation in business education, DfES 2004)

Differentiation is a key issue in ESOL, or teaching English to students who now live in an English speaking country. This is because, in the UK at least, classes are often extremely mixed in terms of level, and students often have what is known as a ‘spiky’ profile  (they may be pretty proficient at speaking and listening, for example, but struggle with reading and writing).

In ELT, differentiation is more often referred to as ‘teaching mixed ability’ or ‘mixed levels’. But, whatever, we call, it, the fact is that no class is ever completely homogeneous, and we all need to be thinking as much as we can about how to meet the individual needs of the students.

That said, I don’t believe in providing different worksheets for all the students and getting them to work on these individually or even in pairs. Unless the class is very small, this just stretches the teacher too thin, and it is often pretty uninspiring for the students as well.

Let’s look at some ways in which we can differentiate without having to spend hours on preparation.

1 Differentiation by outcome

Some people use differentiated outcomes on their lesson plans. For example:

By the end of the lesson all students will be able to.. most will be able to..some will be able to..

This seems quite popular in ESOL, but I personally am not hugely keen on this. It is a reminder that what you are teaching is not what it being learnt. However, it is basically a deficit model.

I would argue that it is more effective (and encouraging) to help students to assess themselves against their personal standard. One way of achieving this is to move away where possible from summative assessment towards more formative assessment. This is a big talking point in British schools at the moment. Basically, this challenges the idea that the best way to test students is by comparing them with each other. This sets up an atmosphere of competition and leads lower achieving students to conclude that they are failing. It also encourages stronger students to rigidly produce only what will get them the highest mark.

Better, surely to encourage students to self assess and to set their own targets or checklists of competencies together with the teacher?

Having promised you less preparation, I have to admit that setting individual targets, does take time and effort but, provided, that a sensible approach is taken (i.e. not asking learners who barely speak English to fill in a 6 page Individual Learning Plan), it can, I think, be well worth it.

2. Differentiation by teaching method

The activities we choose to use can also differentiate well. An activity which involves active learning and group or pair work is likely to differentiate more effectively because

-          Students can work at their own level.

-          Students can support each other and learn from each other.

Most of us have experimented with putting stronger students with weaker ones and, it has to be said, the results can vary quite a bit. Sometimes it works really well. The stronger student consolidates their knowledge by explaining to the weaker student and the weaker student feels supported.

Sometimes, however, the stronger student dominates or resents the role and/or the weaker student feels embarrassed or says nothing.

Mixing things up so that the same pairings aren’t used all the time certainly helps, but there are also some techniques you can use, such as Scribe, which I first saw in Jill Hadfield’s excellent book, Classroom Dynamics. When carrying out a small group discussion, appoint a scribe, or note taker for the group. They should only listen and take notes. After the discussion, they will feed back to the whole class.

If the strongest student is the scribe, this will prevent them from dominating, but still give them an important role and a chance to shine at the end. If a weaker student takes this role, the pressure is taken off them to produce language spontaneously, but they can prepare something to say at the end, which will provide a sense of achievement.

Questioning techniques can also be modified to provide better differentiation. Give students enough time and space to answer and nominate, by asking the question before you name the student, so it doesn’t always fall back to stronger students. Consider how easy the question is and don’t choose students who can’t answer. Use monitoring while students are working in pairs or groups to identify who can answer which question.

Ask different types of questions. A useful model is Bloom’s mastery and developmental tasks (Bloom’s taxonomy) Mastery tasks can be mastered by all learners, they are straightforward- you might ask a learner to describe something or define something. A developmental task is more stretching and requires a deep understanding. These kinds of questions might ask the students to judge or critically appraise for example.

3 Differentiation by task.

And finally, most tasks can be designed to provide either extra support, or extension to challenge more able students. This doesn’t have to mean completely new activities, just a tweak here and there.

The table below gives some examples:

Activity Type Extension activities Support strategies
Reading Select 3 new items of vocabulary, look them up in their dictionaries and write them up on the board, with definitions.Write 3 questions about the text. These can then be given to another early finisher to answer and then passed back to the original student for marking. Pre-teach vocabulary students will need to do the task and leave it on the board.Activate their previous knowledge of the topic before reading.Give students the answers in a jumbled order, with a few distractors.Make open questions multiple choice.

Break the text into sections with questions after each section and give the option of only reading 1 or 2 sections.

 

Listening When students listen for the second time to confirm their answers, give some optional extra questions as well.When taking answers on a true/false activity, ask why/why not? Pre-teach vocabulary and activate knowledge as above.Give students a chance to discuss answers before feeding back to the class. Monitor and play again if necessary.Give students the tapescript on second listening.In a gap-fill, provide some of the words needed.

 

Writing Make use of creative tasks that students can do at their own level.Use a correction code to give students a chance to self correct.Increase the word limit.  Give a model or example before they start writing.Correct the draft with the student or in pairs before rewriting.Reduce the word limit. 
Speaking Ask students to justify their opinionsPair higher level students together so they can really stretch themselves. Give students time to rehearse or plan their ideas.Pair weak and strong together.Elicit and practise the language they will be using beforehand

And, going back to the second point,  we can also aid differentiation by providing tasks with more open outcomes, so that students can do the same task, but each at their own level of ability.

Obviously none of these ideas is going to provide every student in the class with a 1-2-1 tailor-made course. However, I do think they can go some way towards helping to address the different needs, interests and abilities of the learners.

Please feel free to comment and add your own ideas. All gratefully received!

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