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Finding flow…

Trying out phonic-based approaches with ESOL students – an action research approach

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

Image by Kidaha on Pixabay

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. 

Audience Engagement

My thoughts and learning as I prepare training on alternatives to ‘death by Powerpoint’.

By Nicki Berry, PD (Y&H) Digital.

I have to confess that of all the Microsoft Office applications, PowerPoint is probably my least favourite. I used it briefly as a primary school teacher, many years ago, but quickly switched to Smart Notebook and ActivInspire when interactive whiteboards became the norm.

I can’t really pinpoint what it is about PowerPoint that turns me off. It might not be the application itself, but rather the way I’ve seen it used. We went through a phase of every child in a class of 30 doing a presentation about their holidays, complete with flying, whizzing and cheering items on each and every mouse click. Even adult presenters can have a tendency to put too much on each slide, sometimes with poor text/background contrast, and then just read it to the audience, as though we are incapable of reading for ourselves.

So my heart did an inward leap for joy when my boss recently asked me to prepare and present a one and a half hour session on alternatives to PowerPoint for engaging an audience. My audience will be senior managers, who give presentations on a regular basis as part of their work – a potentially tough group to try to downsell PowerPoint!

Anyway, I’m going to give you (and them) a brief glimpse of some alternatives.

Microsoft Sway

I first used Sway, whilst studying for my Master’s with the Open University. We were discussing whether Wikipedia is an acceptable study tool (let’s not get started on that here!) and here is a presentation I made for one of our tutorials.

There are advantages and disadvantages to Sway. The biggest disadvantage, which Microsoft much surely address eventually, is that is cannot be used offline and cannot be exported, so if the Internet goes down, you could well be stuffed! Also, branding is more difficult than it would be with a traditional PowerPoint presentation, though it is possible to adapt colour schemes and fonts used.

The advantages are in some of the features that make it look that little bit more modern than PowerPoint. It can be presented in slide mode, like a traditional presentation, or by scrolling vertically or horizontally. This makes it good to share for ‘after the event’ viewing, as it is easy to find the section you want, quickly. I particularly like the way that images can be stacked, allowing you to click on them and shuffle through, just like a stack of cards. From an accessibility point of view, it is great because you can switch easily to ‘accessibility view’ and it automatically changes the presentation so that visually impaired users can view it through a screen reader more easily.

Socrative

When presenting to an audience, I think many of us have that worry about whether anyone is actually listening, engaging with us or understanding what we are talking about. This is where some kind of quiz can be handy.

There are various quizzing tools out there but I like Socrative and find it fun and easy to use. You can set up a quiz or survey to engage your audience during a presentation and then get them to interact on their own devices (or you could provide some). It works on PC, laptops, tablets, phones… pretty much anything that is online. You show the question from the front, it sends to their device and then all the answers can be seen, with various options on names, anonymity and so on, on the screen. When working with a group, particularly in a training situation, my favourite is to run the quiz as a race. I generally get a member of the audience to choose what type of character we will race as (unicorn, space ship, etc) but I was writing this in December, so reindeer seemed like the only real choice!

Question Screen (on individual screens)
Answer Screen (shown on the board at the front)

One advantage of Socrative is that only the presenter (teacher) needs to have an account (free option is more than sufficient for my needs) and the audience log in using the presenter’s room code. So you don’t have to try to get your group set up with their own accounts.

I also really like the fact that all the results can be stored, exported and used later on to inform further training. When I’ve used this for tutor training, I can easily see who might need further support and who has really got the hang of what we’re learning, so could support others.

Twitter

This one can be a little risky, so it’s only for the brave, in my opinion. It is based on the concept of back-channelling. So first of all, what is back-channelling? Well, it has always existed. Back-channelling is the communication strategy that we use to let a speaker know that we are listening and following what they are saying. So it can be as simple as just nodding, smiling or saying, “Aha!”

Using Twitter, the idea is to engage your audience in live discussion and get feedback, questions and comments on your presentation as you go. Depending on the nature of the audience, it either works well or falls flat. If you’ve got a high proportion of those kind of people who like digital multitasking… the ones who are going to be on their phone, checking their Facebook while they should be listening, and can probably pull off a reasonably convincing ‘I’m paying full attention’ face whilst they do… they can be lulled into a middle ground, where they get to do social media and listen and interact, all at the same time. Just decide on a hashtag – #mysession – and ask your audience to post questions, feedback, quotes they liked and what they are learning/will use back in their day job. It’s worth checking that your intended hashtag isn’t already going viral with something else though first.

Why do I say it is risky? Well, not everyone will agree with what you are saying. They might post negative comments or ask questions you don’t know the answers to. You need to give some thought to how you would respond to these. I generally try to be quite open, but set some guidelines at the beginning.

Sometimes the conversation can be all friendly and pleasant like this extract from an online conference I attended in 2016.

Sometimes, though, the feedback and questions can be more challenging, as some TV programmes have found.

Finally, of course, if you’re going to use social media for something that really matters, it’s worth considering that not everybody will have an account. I generally put out a warning in the pre-course blurb, saying that we’ll be using Twitter and it would be helpful if they could create an account.

Encouraging Learner Autonomy

By Anthony Dunne 

PD (Mersey) Maths

 

There are many challenges to be faced when delivering GCSE maths in an FE setting. The time constraints, the apathy of some learners repeating a course they deem pointless or worse, a qualification they fear they will never gain. Ask yourself the question, if you garnered these perspectives, what type of learner would you be? I can answer this with confidence through experience; I was that learner. Me and French were never friends. I felt as though it was pointless (why learn French, they learn English don’t they?) and I was terrible at it. Worst of all my teacher thought the best way to combat this was through shouting and creating an atmosphere of fear. For me this was the worst thing to do. I would down tools or even worse, simply miss the lesson entirely. This is where an empathy for learners who say they ‘hate’ maths has grown from; I know what it is like to dread a subject through a mixture of fear of failure and futility.

 

This led me to the question; how would I have wanted to be taught? Have someone attempt to shout information into me? Or, another way? There is of course no precise other way that will work 100% of the time. If there was, I wouldn’t still be sat in my office typing this article, I would be sipping a beer on a beach enjoying my millions for finding the philosopher’s stone of teaching. However, what I did do this year was a little different to my approach in the past, which resulted in a more engaged cohort and lessons that were more relevant for the learners, namely increasing autonomy for the learners.

 

I am not a fan of buzz words or clichéd phrases, but increasing a learner’s independence should be the principle value of their time at FE; preparing them for employment or higher education. If I can contribute to this in any way, this will be a transferrable skill of merit. So, what did I actually do? The college I work for split our students into two main cohorts; new enrollers and returners. New enrollers are given two lessons per week lasting 90 minutes each. Returners have one lesson for two hours. To maximise this time, I made it clear as early as possible that learners were in charge of their own maths journey. Journey being the operative word; they knew their starting point, they knew their final destination and they all had the right directions given to them. It was up to them to choose the right path. To aid this, every lesson had a theme. Objectives depended on the area which they wished to focus upon. In conjunction with an assessment given to them every six weeks, a choice of three topics, with ramped difficulty within each subject, was given. It was up to the learner to choose what they believed they needed to work up on, with me facilitating and what their objectives should be by the end of the lesson. As they have set their own target, chosen their own work, this autonomy almost acts as self-motivation and competing against themselves. The learners go from passive to active and differentiate themselves.

 

Whether this has a significant impact upon their results will be seen in the coming weeks, but for now, attendance was not the problem it has been in the past, subjectively learners commented they preferred this style and believed they gained from each lesson and perhaps most important for the long term, they enjoyed maths. Whilst this can’t be given a grade, perhaps we sometimes lose focus on what should be important for learners.

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.