by Elizabeth Hillier for the NW English PEN
Lockdown has certainly posed its fair share of challenges for English teaching in FE. Post-lockdown and with the prospect of social distancing being a practical concern in a classroom that traditionally relies on the distribution of pens, paper, highlighters, texts as well as the close peer and group collaboration that is needed to create a lively learning environment, September seems as uncertain as ever.
However, maybe this ‘pivot’ maybe the opportunity needed to embed hybrid learning in the English classroom? This prospect is also a scary one especially as there are questions such as: how will it look? how can it be facilitated? how can learning be effective in two different teaching environments? The biggest question is that concerning digital poverty and how we can best serve all of our learners to make sure the curriculum we offer is inclusive, creative and engaging.
Whilst Senior Leadership Teams have the uneviable task of trying to accomodate all of these different scenarios, as an English teacher I have decided that whatever the hybrid model at our college looks like, I want to make sure that my learners enjoy a subject that lends itself well to two different environments. Therefore I have set myself 3 key principles to adhere to:
- The learning drives the technology and not the other way around
- Keep the digital aspect of a hybrid curriculum simple and straightforward
- Don’t reinvent the wheel! Draw ideas from colleagues locally and nationally and look at good practice.
The FTE has also provided “Free webinars to support online learning for practitioners and their learners” which I have found to be incredibly useful.
Over the past few weeks I have heard the following quote from Vladimir Lenin quite a lot:
“There are decades where nothing happens: and there are weeks when decades happen”.Lenin
Lots of colleagues have fully adhered to this notion and whilst we all feel tired with ‘digital fatigue’, undoubtedly we will power through.
This sector has the resilience, collaborative working patterns and determination to make whatever comes our way in September, be successful.
By Laura Kehdi – Westway Trust. Member of PDNorth’s online practitioner action research group
I am currently teaching ESOL pre-entry at Westway Trust and I just love it, as it is very rewarding. I have based my research on a pre-entry group of lovely international students, who I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays for two and a half hours per lesson. Each student has a different background, nationality and age. Most of them are illiterate and many also have learning differences and difficulties. Many speak Arabic as their first language, others speak Portuguese, Spanish and Farsi.
Stage 1: Getting feedback from students
I asked my students what they like about my lessons, what they don’t like, and what they would like to continue doing. As they are beginners, I did this by talking to them directly (using translation when necessary), and by taking notes. Their response didn’t surprise me at all; they were all very happy and enthusiastic about what we are currently doing. However, what everyone really wanted to be able to do was to keep trying to learn how to read and write certain words. In essence the group want to become literate, which as an ESOL teacher, is my aim for them too! Following some phonics training our team accessed in November as part of our Outstanding Teaching and Learning (OTLA) CPD, a particular approach caught my attention – something so simple but so useful at the same time. I had never thought of it before, and I felt it could potentially help my students very much when it came to learning a new word, especially when writing and reading it.
Stage 2 implementing a new teaching strategy: From copy and speak to copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!
The technique I first tried out with students is focused on copying words while speaking them at the same time. So, while a student is writing one word, it is extremely helpful to speak the sound of each letter instead of being silent. However, notice that it is the sound of the word that we are taking in consideration, not the name of the letters. So, for example, with the word “cook”, students would say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k), and not see-ou-ou-key / c-o-o-k.
I shared this strategy with my students, as a new way of practising and learning a new word while becoming more independent; in fact, students can use this strategy anytime and anywhere, without the teacher‘s help. However, I found that just copying the words wasn’t enough for students to both understand the word and to check how much they had actually learned. Building on my reflections, my work with students, and my learning during the CPD course, I developed the following exercise: copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!
STEP 1 Copy, copy, copy
Students copy the word multiple times and concurrently speak the sound of the word (we copied the same word at least 10 times).
STEP 2 No copy
Students cover the sheet where they have copied the word many times. On another sheet, they then try to write the word without copying, just one time.
STEP 3 Check!
Students compare the word they have written without copying (step 2) with the original word (step 1). Students can then see if the word is correct, how many letters were right and how many were wrong – by doing so, students can see by themselves what was correct and what they need to practise.
Repeat this cycle as many times as needed with the same word. Once students feel confident with the word chosen, they can change it and start all over again with another word. I found that it was helpful to stress the name of the steps ‘copy, copy, copy, no copy, check!’ almost like a chant, as this was very helpful for students to memorise the sequence of the exercise, which also helped promote students’ independence.
Stage 3: Reflecting on the results of copy, copy, no copy, check!
I am very pleased with the outcome of the activity so far; I could see huge improvements in every student! For instance:
- Most of the students can remember and write the word at stage 2 100% correctly. I was impressed on how much copying while speaking the sound of the word, could help students to memorising it – incredible!
- A few students did not write the word completely correctly. However, I saw a huge improvement in my group. Sometimes from one letter correct to three or four.
- Speaking the word is key. The sound itself massively helps students at stage 2, when they have to remember the spelling of the word without copying it. Students have combined and memorised the letter and the sound together, therefore this helps them with remembering each letter of the word when saying it.
A key finding from this intervention is that it has helped students to become much more independent when studying a new word. They learn how to practise, to check and correct the word by themselves, and not with the help of the teacher as usual. This is a huge step, especially for illiterate pre-entry ESOL students.
There are however situations where this approach could be less successful; it is helpful to be aware of these problems, to avoid disappointment. For instance:
- Students might not be aware nor confident enough with the pronunciation of the word. Make sure the teacher does a lot of drilling first and records the word with the student’s phone to help them and to promote self-study.
- Students might start spelling the word (name of the letters) instead of speaking the sound of it. For example, with the word “cook”, students would say see-ow-ow-key / c-o-o-k, but actually they must say k-ʊ-k (c-oo-k).
- Students might struggle with speaking the sound of the word and copying/writing it at the same time. For example, some of them might have just started copying the first letter but finished to pronounce the whole word already. Teacher’s must show students a few examples on the board first, and the stress the fact that writing and speaking must be concurrently.
- Many students forget to continue speaking after a while. They get back to what they used to do, which was copying without any sound. Make sure you always monitor and encourage students to persist with the nature of the exercise.
- Students might struggle with remembering the chant at first. Make sure to reinforce this as it helps students to be independent, knowing what to do without any help. Without the chant, it is extremely difficult for students to remember what to do at every stage, especially at pre-entry levels.
Stage 4 – Concluding thoughts and next steps
I am truly pleased on the very positive results I had with my group. I believe that having included the technique as a three-stage cycle improved the outcome even more. This activity works very well not only when it comes to helping students, (especially those who are just beginning to learn to read and write), to learn and practise a new word, but also to promote self-study. I designed this activity for pre-entry students, but it can be adapted and used with higher levels too. For example, instead of learning one word, students might want to practise a whole sentence. Timewise, the exercise can be done in 5 minutes or in 15 – do it as much as it is needed, I would say. I intend to keep adapting my approaches based on learner feedback and my observations, and I will continue engaging in action research as a way of reflecting upon the strategies I develop to support my learners.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to engage in action research and to work on such an enjoyable and important project. I hope that many teachers will find this activity as useful and efficient as I did, and that they will use it to help students to become literate and more independent.
Robert Broome, a practitioner from our online action research exchange, explores how language and context matters when embedding Functional Skills.
My name is Robert Broome. I’m a level 1 course team leader in professional cookery at North Hertfordshire College and I am also completing my PGCE teaching degree at Bedford college. As part of my course I was asked to complete an action research project of my choice. Because I teach on a vocational course, I decided to see whether adding contextualised examples of maths and English work within my cookery sessions could help students with their maths and English studies. This has been of interest to me not only within my profession but because, I too at 28 years old struggle with English in a general sense (e.g. reading, spelling and breaking down of text).
A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education, and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (published 2 July 2014) stated:
‘Many students have problems in maths and English all the way through the progressing to adult life. “40% of pupils do not get GCSE grades A* to C in English and maths by age 16. Worse still, 90% of those who don’t reach this basic standard by 16, don’t achieve it by age 19” (dept. of education, 2018).
Another interesting study made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), states that older generations tend to perform better in maths and English based tasks than younger learners.
I researched into these claims by the government by conducting my own experiment with a few of my level 1 professional cookery students. I asked a few GCSE standard maths and English questions and the average score out of 13 was 7-8, which works out to be 57% of the mark. I then asked the same questions to adult learners, all of whom were over the age of 40. The average score for the older learners was 11-12 out of 13, which is 88% of the mark.’
After compiling data whereby I had asked students GCSE standard questions in both Maths and English, I then used their knowledge of Professional cookery to help them progress and challenge them in these areas. In order to do this I took the GCSE questions and “re-worded” them with terminology based around catering and hospitality. I also gave students visual aids to help them around the kitchen classroom. This process was much the same with maths; my aim was to get students to think of maths in the hospitality industry as opposed to working from a textbook. My hope was that this approach would help learners:
- See the relevance of maths and English skills within professional cookery;
- encourage a subconscious style of learning, helping students learn through experience and by what they saw and heard in the kitchens.
- encourage reluctant students to learn important maths and English skills, without these needing to be explicitly taught.
- Help close the maths and English skills gap I noticed between younger learners, and adult learners.
Following this period of embedded and contextualised maths and English work, I then asked students the GCSE standard questions again and cross referenced their answers with the previous ones to see if there were any improvements, big or small. With each group of learners there were slight improvements, with most learners scoring at least one point more than they had during the first test. The graph below shows the differences in learners’ scores, before and after they had accessed contextualised English and maths work:
Whilst the gains in learners’ test results initially seem quite small, perhaps more telling was their improved spelling of contextualised vocabulary. One example I did of this was when I asked the students how to spell ‘Tagliatelle’. Initially, only 1 student out of 15 got it correct. I then posted around the two kitchens a glossary of types of pasta where Tagliatelle was on this. A couple of days later I asked the class to spell Tagliatelle again. The number of students who spelt it correctly grew from 1 to 3. Not a huge leap but then an additional 4 students were only 1 or 2 letters off the correct spelling, a huge improvement in such a short period of time!
If I was to sum up my research it would be that vocational courses can have an impact on a students’ maths and English skills in both a positive and a negative way. The positives are clearly seen in my research, if teachers keep pushing maths and English in their lessons then students will progress. The negative however is that I noticed a lot of my students didn’t realise how important Maths and English is to vocational courses and professions. The mentality is for most was once they have finished maths and English at GCSE then they don’t need to think about it again. This is where students can slip on their skills in Maths and English over the two to three years they are in vocational courses at colleges. This potential for slippage adds to employers’ concerns that college leavers do not always have the maths and English skills they require for the working world. I believe that by constantly reminding students on vocational courses how important Maths and English is in the working world, alongside constantly embedding and contextualising maths and English work (to the point where students may not realise that’s what they are doing) vocational teachers can make a massive impact upon students’ motivation, engagement and success in maths and English, during their time at college and in the future.
I also think it’s vital for tutors to keep up to date on their own Maths and English, so we can help students and so we can improve our own confidence to teach these essential skills.
A colleague asked me about digital resources for teaching English so she could support one of her exchange groups. They were looking for resources with low impact on workload but positive impact on learners. I thought I’d reformulate my reply into a blog but then decided that sharing my email reply would be just as authentic and play with the traditional lines of a blog post. I hope you find some or all of it useful 😊 ~ Chloë
Oh goodness – where to begin 😃. I’ll be as brief but as informative as possible:
Please recommend our screencasts via our PDNorth Youtube account. There are lots more to be added from an English & Maths PoV over the coming months too, from the OTLA Digital folks. Our screencasts have an element of practical ‘how to’ but most importantly they include pedagogical uses (and limitations) from real life experience in the FE classroom/training room/library!
I would fully recommend the Padlet* screencast which focusses on approaches and strategies as I detail a range of uses from personal experience in ESOL, English, Food Safety and Digital training contexts. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa3XL5tqV6TwbirjbXbRM5Q?view_as=subscriber
One of the latest blogs on PDNorth is about Screencasting* and that again includes my experience of using it for ESOL/English with some practical examples and suggestions. Read it here: https://pdnorth.org.uk/pd-north-blog/
Shaping Success Courses
Perhaps signpost practitioners to the digital approaches / multimedia webinars we have via Shaping Success (£25 per person or free if they fit one of the freebie criterion)? These webinars speak about specific websites / apps and how they can be used to teach English &/or Maths but these require a little play time to explore. We also encourage people to think critically about using digital in the classroom (ie not just for sparkles!). More info:
Average bog standard websites can be really useful for English teaching to explore comprehension and navigation whilst using websites they may already use (or need help being able to use). These days job applications are all online / shopping online is more convenient / accessing transport timetables etc so embedding personal digital skills and digital literacies with everyday websites is
An example of one ESOL lesson I did (at an FE college in a computer room): Students accessed an Excel spreadsheet (quick one I made) on a Padlet and downloaded it. It had a ‘shopping list’ of 15 items on it for which they had to find and price up at Asda / Tesco / Sainsburys online. Then they worked out the total etc to see which one was the cheapest. At the end they uploaded their document to the Padlet so I had a record of their work (also useful for RARPA). Okay, I’m using Padlet, Excel and 3 websites there but they also wanted to know how to use Excel and upload/download/add an attachment so I incorporated that into the session too. It took me minutes to make the Excel document and add it to a Padlet so it wasn’t a burden on my time (I know this is a real concern with digi stuff) and I reused the document / Padlet with other classes. However, you could just do a paper version of the Excel Sheet and learners could access the supermarkets on their phone (if they have access to one).
I highly recommend using a blogging website when teaching English. Particularly reading. The one I used originally a few years ago was Blogger* but issues with that included needing a Google Account/Email address which was a barrier to many of my learners. I ended up turning to Edmodo* as that ticked lots of boxes and has a familiar interface (it looks like Facebook with similar functionality). I’ve gauged from colleagues though that Edmodo hits it off with ESOL learners
better than English.
Specifically ones that come with the phone and don’t rely on learners downloading things/using their space. For example: voice recorder is great for recording themselves before writing an essay. Or recording a convo and transcribing it. Also good for practicing pronunciation (ESOL).
However, I wonder from your email if you mean very specific resources that have already been created…? If so, I recommend: The British Council / British Council
NEXUS (ESOL), One Stop English (ESOL), Film English (ESOL + ELT), English My Way (v low level ESOL), BBC Skillswise and of course: the Excellence Gateway!
I know it’s easier said than done, but I truly believe in the importance of sharing with colleagues who you work with. Many departments/organisations don’t do this (especially if tutors are 0hrs or don’t work together physically etc) but it really does help to lighten everyone’s load if everyone shares something. Infact this reminds me of a quote (by George Bernard Shaw) that Sue shared with us which I think helps to sum up the purpose of PDNorth tbh:
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple.
But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
Hope this helps – let me know 😊
* If you would like to use platforms like these, I’d recommend introducing them at the beginning of the year and using them regularly in order to increase user experience and recognition. Don’t waste time introducing a ‘flavour of the week’ because most of your lessons will be taken up with the initial ‘getting to know you’ stage of a new platform. This will frustrate your learners, increase your workload and decrease the teaching/learning time significantly. With any digital elements of your TLA ask: Could I get the same result easier without the tech aspect? What (if anything) does the tech aspect add to the learning?
By Barry Hartle, Instructional Officer – HMP Haverigg
From meetings with Claire Collins (PDNorth Exchange Lead) and Dave Everett (my manager) on the idea of introducing embedded learning maths and English into the workshops I was asked if I could develop ways to engage the prisoners to improve their maths and English.
With prisoners not wanting to engage in education, I came up with the idea of developing work related job sheets that didn’t look like an education test sheet.
The sheets had:
- A pictorial cover sheet of the finished product or the equipment the prisoners were going to use to complete the product they were working on.
- No more than five questions on maths and English; this could have consisted of three maths and two English related questions, the variations could be any, all English or all maths etc.
- A feedback section for the prisoner instructor. I also decided to change the naming from prisoner and instructor to employee and employer, so the prisoner could take them when they were discharged from the prison.
To engage the instructors on this was difficult because they were thinking: “more work added to my work load?!”, but after having a meeting with all the instructors, I explained that the job sheets would be based on information they gave to me on the products being made in each workshop and that it would be me designing the job sheets as I was their pen and paper =This seemed to get full approval.
We now have four workshops delivering the job sheets with very good feedback from the prisoners and the instructors. With the prisoners who say they can’t do maths and English: the instructors are able to say to them, that they have answered questions at certain levels. This with the possibility of encouraging them to take up education and at the moment we have a good success in doing that.
This is an ongoing development making the sheets at different levels to show progression of their maths and English. For us here, this was the way to go. The idea is there and could be developed in other areas.
You can download Barry’s Job Sheets (and other task based learning resources) for use in your own workshop by clicking the image to the right:
Delivering a workshop at a national conference
by Colette Butterworth & Sue Primrose
This year the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and Other Community Languages to Adults) conference was held in Birmingham. This national, annual conference is a huge event that is held specifically for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) practitioners. This year there was a variety of workshops, a resources exhibition and an Ascentis Teachmeet.
Sue Primrose and I delivered a workshop called “Unlocking the ESOL mindset”. This workshop looked at how to develop a learner’s mindset so that they can learn more effectively as they gain a better understanding of their own thinking and develop strategies to tackle internal and external barriers. Practical and interactive exercises were demonstrated to show how structured and deeper questioning in the ESOL classroom can guide learners to become more reflective and autonomous thus taking ownership of their progress.
Having never presented at or even attended a national CPD conference, we were unsure what to expect. Would we buckle at the knees and freeze? All these thoughts were flying through my mind so in a state of nervous excitement I began the seminar. Fortuitously, we had provided 30 packs because instead of the 18 delegates we were expecting, there were instead, 29 attendees.
We came up with some ideas for our students to think in a more creative way to enable them to become more independent in their learning. For a warmer exercise, we started with a competition. The prize was a big bag of fruit to keep the winning delegate energised for the weekend. The warmer allows the teachers to work out the students’ starting points and the barriers to their learning. This then allows the teachers to encourage the students with barriers to become responsible for their own learning and think about how they can manage their time. We then moved on to a Padlet which included creative thinking exercises and reading images using ‘wh’ questions and ‘What if…’ questions. The main part of the seminar was to deconstruct the goals of each student to allow them to think about what they want to achieve and how and when they are going to go about achieving it. It allows the students to take personal responsibility for the work they do throughout the year to achieve their goals. Some teachers were unsure how to apply the techniques. This was particularly at lower levels, where the students’ command of English is weaker. However, we were able to offer advice about questioning techniques and showing the value of students taking responsibility for their own learning. The sooner this is done the better!
The seminar was thought-provoking and it gave the delegates some ideas of how to encourage more independent study skills with their students. The feedback we received from NATECLA was tremendous. Delivering at a conference and sharing ideas was a great experience. We can all learn by sharing resources and ideas through conferences, teachmeets, blogging and Twitter. I think these are all worthy ways to bring good practice together. We hope to present again next year and look forward to seeing more innovative teachers delivering at future conferences.
Teaching basic literacy
by Chloe Hynes
In recent years we have become increasingly more concerned with social practice approaches to ELT (English Language Teaching) pedagogy as opposed to a focus on skills (a bottom up approach encouraged by Skills for Life strategy). In her workshop: ‘Teaching Basic Literacy Skills’, Anne-Margaret Smith (ELT Well) suggested we shouldn’t necessarily favour either of these attitudes but instead combine the top down and bottom up models to form a complimentary teaching and learning experience.
Begin with the spoken word
Anne-Margaret explained that once we become competent in literacy, it’s hard to remember what the difficulties may be. Particularly for learners who are building upon the foundation of another language. These foundations may be solid but they may also be rather rocky, if existent at all. Anyone who has learned a foreign language (or attended the foreign language lesson in a CELTA course) may remember some of these difficulties: A new script, new sounds, discovering patterns, needing to break habits, forgetting, lack of confidence…
It’s ideal if we can begin with the spoken word because “nobody is born with a pen in their hand” but also – and more specifically for our adults – because this will give learners the confidence and empowerment to use language, play with it and make mistakes.
Next, lay the foundations
The social practice point of view suggests we should begin by asking our learners what motivates them and what interactions are most important to them. From here you can build something to work towards. Anne-Margaret suggests asking your learners to bring in a text that they want to be able to read and keep it in their file or book. This then acts as a physical reminder of their goal and something to work towards. It also helps you to make your planning more personalised.
To combine with skills practice: it’s integral we start at the beginning and that means starting with the alphabet. Teach both names and sounds (all of them!) and focus on 1 (or a handful) each lesson, preferably vowels first and progressing to variations a little later e.g. teach f first then later teach the ph blend.
Then, move on
Smith implored that recognition should come before production. This recognition can help with decoding skills. To illustrate, we were tasked with decoding a little Korean!
Flashcards are a staple in the ESOL classroom but Anne-Margaret suggested asking your students to make their own so they can choose words that are most relevant to them and their lives (with some suggestion from yourself, ofcourse!).
At this point the learners may start to notice patterns, but due to the complexity of the English language these patterns and rules are rarely steadfast. In fact, the top 100 most used words are mostly irregular!
Anne-Margaret finished with a particularly interesting activity for teaching context. Using the Jabberworky as a colourful lead in, use nonesense words within a piece of text and invite learners to guess their meaning from reading the rest of the sentence (or paragraph). Most importantly – follow up by asking questions so they can share why they came to their conclusions.
- In your first lesson explore what learners are comfortable with: different pens, pencils and paper (or whiteboards). Bear in mind that some learners may have never held a pen before or have negative associations attached to writing materials from school experiences.
- Be considerate of fonts used in printed materials. Some letters look different in font form than written which can cause confusion eg. many fonts use the hooded ‘a’ and circular ‘g’. A Sans Serif font is always recommended as the rounded letters are easier to read for many learners. Sassoon, Tahoma and Century Gothic are good options.
- Some languages are pictorial, communicating through concepts and ideas which ‘build’ visually rather than individual written words e.g. Chinese.
- Don’t make assumptions on prior knowledge of script. Not every language which uses the Roman alphabet uses all the letters we use in English. Additionally – some languages use more letters than the 26 letters used in English!
Anne-Margaret’s workshops are always an absolute pleasure to attend. She does so much more for inclusion, SpLD support and ELT via her company, ELTWell. For more information on all the work ELTWell does go to: http://eltwell.com/
ELT Acronyms FYI (For Your Information):
ELT – English Language Teaching
ESOL – English for Speakers of Other Languages
EAL – English as an Additional Language
EfL – English as a Foreign Language
EAP – English for Academic Purposes.