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Contextualising maths and English within vocational learning – reflections from a professional catering teacher

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.

Developing Digital Literacies in English

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


Hi Punam,

Oh goodness – where to begin 😃. I’ll be as brief but as informative as possible:

PDNorth Youtube
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:
https://ccpathways.co.uk/shaping-success


Just…websites!
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
paramount.

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).

Blogs
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.

Phone Apps

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).

Pre-made resources
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 😊

Chloë  


* 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?

Using ‘Job Sheets’ to Get Prisoners into Maths & English

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:

 

Unlocking the ESOL Mindset

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 – Quick and easy strategies for the toolkit

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.

 

 

Considerations

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Some languages are pictorial, communicating through concepts and ideas which ‘build’ visually rather than individual written words e.g. Chinese.
  4. 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.