News & insights

  • Keeping It Real: Philip Warwick’s Guide To Authenticity In The Classroom Part 2


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    Philip Warwick

    Definitions of authenticity agree that being authentic requires a measure of realness and a tangible sense that an experience is true. Increasingly, schools are focusing on authenticity as a key driver for learner motivation and improved outcomes. In fact, entire approaches like project-based learning have been built upon it. In part 1 of his guide to authenticity, Philip Warwick explored ways learning and teaching can be made more authentic. Here in part 2, he looks at the ways in which situations, materials, and tasks can be authentic too.

    Definitions of authenticity are quite consistent. While the Longman Dictionary says it’s “the quality of being real or true,” other resources define it as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” and “not false or an imitation.” Words like “true” and “real” suggest authenticity is something we should strive for as teachers—and we intuitively know our learners respond when we set them tasks that connect to what’s really happening in their world. Authenticity has become core to approaches like project-based learning, and for good reason.

    In his book “Work Rules” Google’s former Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock credited many of the company’s innovations to giving staff the freedom to work on self-directed projects. It’s maybe no coincidence that during his time there Google were voted the best company to work for over 30 times around the world. Self-direction is a core component of authenticity—nothing feels more authentic than deciding for yourself what you want to do.

    Besides approaches like project-based learning, some schools are also offering periods of self-directed study. But in the more formal language classroom that may not be possible, or even applicable. Instead, we can consider how situations, materials, and tasks can help up the authenticity ante.


    Authentic situations

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    Having a communicative purpose isn’t a new concept in language teaching and learning. In fact, the communicative approach has been around since the 1970s. However, with the prominence of Pearson’s Global Scale of English, and the Common European Framework of Reference, there is a greater focus on what students can do in a language than ever before.

    Authentic situations can involve pairs or groups engaged in real-world tasks. Things like co-creating a survey or discussing which restaurant to eat in are authentic situations to place students in. But an authentic situation doesn’t necessarily need pairs or groups. Writing about a favorite food can be authentic if, for example, it’s framed as a social media post for Instagram—surveys suggest sixty-nine percent of millennial's take photos of their food before they eat and many of them are shared with a caption attached.

    Students can also be encouraged to use authentic language. That can mean focusing on high-frequency words—words students will actually hear often and need to use the most—and lexical chunks that have been identified as the most common collocations people really use. Groups of words like “you bet” or “hang on,” for example, are rarely taught but commonly deployed by English language speakers.

    Authentic situations


    Authentic materials

    Materials can be authentic (or inauthentic) too. Today, it’s unlikely students will ever have to write a letter. It’s also increasingly rare to send a postcard. So presenting these kinds of materials can feel inauthentic to a millennial student more used to communicating news about their holiday via messaging apps.

    Instead, students are more likely to connect to videos—like bite-sized vox pop interviews, or sharply edited travel shows. As the creation of content has been democratized, and anyone with an Internet connection and a camera can upload a video to YouTube, videos also provide more realistic examples of content students might want to replicate.

    Philip Warwick talking to the crowd

    The average length of a YouTube video is 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That seems to reflect a decline in our attention spans. In fact, recent surveys suggest there has been a dramatic shortening of our ability to pay attention. Attention spans have even been estimated at eight seconds in a recent Microsoft Corp. survey so the duration of digital content you deliver to your learners is also a factor to consider. Short “snackable” content is more likely to keep learners engaged.

    There’s also a growing belief in language schools that content can be a source of new knowledge and not just a resource that presents language in context. Approaches like CLIL have developed from that belief—that content can provide a double hit of language practice and new, useful information. So, authentic materials can also be the kinds of content that are academically or even personally enriching for students.


    Authentic tasks

    The idea of the need to equip students with 21st-century skills is well established. Globally, business leaders, academics, and governments are aligned that skills like communication, collaboration, creativity and thinking skills like critical thinking are essential for success socially and professionally both now and in the future.

    Authentic tasks

    Tasks that engage students in the “4Cs” will not only mirror what they do in the world, including in the workplace, but there is also strong evidence to suggest engaging in meaningful communication, creativity, collaboration, and higher-order thinking is also more motivating. Take a simple flashcard language drill for example. Students’ attention quickly drifts when they are asked to repeat language over and over—a lower-order thinking activity. Conversely, asking students to create a simple story that connects the same series of words produces far more positive results because they are asked to be creative, a higher-order thinking skill.

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    Pair work and group work have been core components of communicative classes for a long time. These activities also mirror the way people work in the real world. More and more professionals with different expertise and ideas are put together to produce results—whether digitally or physically—and so working with a partner or as part of a group is an authentic chance to prepare for life in the workplace. After all, competition makes us faster, but collaboration makes us better.

    Phil Warick presented at Pearson Day Vietnam. For more photos from the event please visit our Pearson Vietnam Facebook page. For more information on resources for your English classroom please visit us here.

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  • Keeping It Real: Philip Warwick’s Guide To Authenticity In The Classroom Part 1

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    The Longman Dictionary says authenticity is “the quality of being real or true.” But what does authenticity mean in the context of the language classroom? Here, in part 1, Philip Warwick explores authenticity from two different sides: authentic learning and authentic teaching.

    Definitions of authenticity are quite consistent. While the Longman Dictionary says it’s “the quality of being real or true,” other resources define it as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” and “not false or an imitation.” Words like “true” and “real” suggest authenticity is something we should strive for as teachers—and we intuitively know our learners respond when we set them tasks that connect to what’s really happening in their world. Authenticity has become core toapproaches like project-based learning, and for good reason.


    Students notice when theres a disconnect between what we ask them to do in the the classroom

    Authentic learning

    Students notice when there’s a disconnect between what we ask them to do in the classroom, and what they will have to do outside the classroom. Conversely, they respond positively to authenticity in what they’re learning—it provides an automatic impetus for engagement.

    Authentic learning, then, can involve having students engage with real-world problems. This might seem challenging at lower levels of language proficiency. However, voting for a favorite food, for example, has echoes of the real-life situation of negotiating with friends where to go for dinner, but with the language is pitched at a much lower level.

    Added to that, authentic learning can also involve authentic thinking. Instead of voting for a favorite, the class might evaluate the relative merits of each kind of food and put them in a list from their favorite to their least favorite. This higher-order thinking skill—evaluation—requires students to critically assess information, an ability which has been identified as one of the keys to success socially and professionally in the 21st century.

    Authentic Learning

    Metacognitive skills—thinking about thinking—are also processes students of all levels can engage in. Students can rank or review an activity or task, thinking about what was easy and what was hard about it. By identifying the challenging aspects of the activity or task students might approach similar activities or tasks differently in future. They might also seek support not only by asking their teacher for help; they might also ask other students to help too, and so there may also be a social and community element to this, which also feels authentic.

    Beyond the activity or task, students may be given some autonomy by directing their own learning. Using the idea of an activity around food again, they may ask to design a dream restaurant or create a recipe for an unusual dish. Nothing feels more authentic than choosing for yourself what you’d like to explore.


    Authentic teaching

    Students respond to teachers who are “real” too. That’s been reflected in drop-out rates in online courses. The completion rate for students enrolling in MOOCs (massive open online courses) like Coursera is said to be as low as just ten percent. The company argue that many people enrolling on the courses never intended to complete them anyway—they just wanted to dip into the content. However, many others connect the high drop-out rates with a lack of human connection. Learners need the sense of community that’s provided by a teacher and fellow students, and more and more online courses are trying to emulate the feeling of community students get in a face-to-face class.

    Authentic teaching

    But what else can teachers do to be authentic? One way is to relinquish the idea that we, as educators, can know everything about a topic whether it’s art, science, or the English language. The idea of “the sage on the stage” is outdated. A cursory Google search can reveal more knowledge about a topic than we could ever hope to amass. That means students also have easy access to the same wealth of information, and they can quickly check and verify anything their teacher tells them. Being “real” as a teacher means partnering with students on the learning journey, and accepting we don’t know everything—and we don’t need to anymore. Another simple way for teachers to keep it real is to engage emotionally with their class. That can include sharing personal information—as long as they feel comfortable doing so—and instilling a sense of genuine fun and enjoyment into teaching and learning. Positive emotions reflect...and so do negative ones.

    Once you share personal information, your students might share too building a deeper bond that can inspire them to learn more. And if students see you enjoying the time you have together, they should start to enjoy it too. One way you might do that is to share your love of words, like the word “rhythm,” for example, which is a two syllable word without any vowels in its written form; or how some words, like paper clip, do what they describe—a paper clip clips paper.


    Keeping it real in the classroom

    Authenticity, “the quality of being real or true,” can mean different things whether you’re a teacher or a student. Learners are always on the lookout for tasks and activities that feel real. That might mean they’re looking to be presented with real-world challenges, or they might want to be asked to think in the ways that they would need to think outside the classroom.

    Teachers can be “real” too. One of those ways is to let go of the idea that they need to know everything. That means embarking on a learning journey as a facilitator or activator—and even better if you are a facilitator or activator who’s open to sharing information about yourself, and who takes a playful approach to language and learning.

    Phil Warick presented at Pearson Day Vietnam. For more photos from the event please visit our Pearson Vietnam Facebook page. For more information on resources for your English classroom please visit us here.

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  • Making education more effective using reliable assessment methods

    Unmet Needs in Education, A Problem We Cannot Afford to Ignore

    How often is it that we, in our world, see sad cases of student failure in school or desperate but ineffective attempts of teachers in working on progress in certain students? Students repeat or fail a grade in school, teachers give excessive homework or assignments only to be forgotten or ignored, school leaders endlessly interview new candidates of educators but seeming to be never finding the right ones; these are all becoming more and more common scene in today’s education, although it does not make it less frustrating. What is happening?

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    Unmet needs in education is what is happening; and frankly, this is a problem we cannot afford to ignore. The common scene of failures in education does not help to create quality human resources for the world’s ever-growing demands. Unqualified human resources lead to poor life quality and weak community, and we do not want this to take place, let alone spread and get worse in a larger scope. We want, and we feel we have tried our best, to make sure we are shaping our children to be strong, smart, leading individuals in the future, but we keep facing the harsh reality of our day-to-day results. Students need a different kind of help and facilitation, educators need a different kind of insight and advice, school leaders need a different kind of method. These needs are simply unmet. At the same time, we know that there must be an underlying issue here, but often we just can not figure it out. Slowly, the vision of quality human resources in the future looks further and further distant. Blurry, sometimes.


    Assessing the Underlying Issue, Applying the Right Intervention for Each Individual Case, Identifying the Right People for the Right Place

    Identifying the right people for the right place

    In mainstream schools, up to 30% of students are estimated to be struggling with their school work and failing to achieve their full potential (Skues and Cunningham, 2011). This shows, first of all, that learning difficulties among our students are real and highly prevalent. As educators, we are often aware of the existence of a handful of visibly special students, who are in constant need of our intensive intervention; but what about so many others who just seem to always mispronounce the sound of certain letters or syllables, or misspell the same words over and over again, or cannot understand how multiplication works, or never remember the assignment instructions we have just explained? Similarly and secondly, teachers often find themselves failing and unhappy, less and less motivated for tomorrow’s workday. There is little, if any, motivational satisfaction in educating and school leaders experience either hiring people who only want to have a stable job or lack of good teachers. In all this, don’t we all agree that we need a reliable assessment instrument to find the underlying issue and apply the right intervention as well as identify the right people for the right place in education?

    Thankfully, Pearson addressed this very problem by developing and publishing standardised psychometric assessments and related interventions. In its event this year “Pearson Day 2018: What Makes A Learning Process Great?”, Anisa Zulfiqar, Business Development Manager, Asia, at Pearson Asia Pacific, presented a hands-on experience to scores of educators and school leaders using psychometric assessments. Psychometric assessments are a complete package. They measure and improve clients’ intelligence; attention, memory, and problem solving; aptitude or achievement; personality or psychopathology; feelings and emotions; values; attitudes; interests; motives and needs; language ability; and motor skills. In other words, we assess the underlying issue.

    Psychometric assessments

    For students, psychometric assessments will identify their learning challenges and difficulties, provide insights and recommendations for the right intervention by their teachers; while for school leaders, they will help recognize the right people for each position or place in the education job field. Besides these direct outputs, we can also expect more strategic and longer-term outcomes. When it becomes an ongoing process cycle of observation, monitoring, assessment, planning, implementation, and review, it is only logical to aim for lower rate of student failures in schools, improved learning performances because the learning difficulties are recognized and given the right intervention, and eventually, higher quality of human resources. Of course, one may question the reliability of these assessments, i.e. will they guarantee the right solution and targeted result achievement? However, while keeping in mind that there is no perfect predictor or guarantee to human problems, behaviors, and performance, using a range of the best and most relevant assessments do improve the odds of those reliability factors: having the right solution in hand and achieving the targeted results.

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    The Shape of Indonesia’s Future in Education

    Pearson Clinical and Talent Assessments and interventions can contribute to the shape of Indonesia’s future in education. As this country is speeding up in many areas, it certainly needs high quality human resources for current internal developments as well as facing the future external challenges internationally. With the right facilitation for each unique need of our children and by placing the right ones in the right place, Indonesia’s human resources can be unstoppable in the world arena. All these dreams are made possible starting today, with well-thought-of and innovative assessments in our education.

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  • Differentiated learning: supporting learning for students of all abilities

    Student learning can be influenced by a number of factors: gender, culture, disabilities, socio-economic status, comfort level, or a combination of the above. Finding a way to help each student in your classroom learn may be a challenge – but it’s not impossible.


    Celebrating all learners

    Some students excel at sports, others at language, or maths. Some come into the classroom with confidence, others bring learning anxiety. Many will be novice learners, while others will display academic excellence at every turn. This is not a new phenomenon – it’s common knowledge that students are different, as are their learning needs. This diversity in student learning should not just be tolerated, it should be celebrated.

    Differentiated instruction involves responding specifically – and with flexibility – to what students know. It involves changing the way the curriculum is presented to suit each student, rather than setting lessons in stone. It means providing multiple ways for pupils to learn new content, make sense of new ideas, and prove their understanding.


    A cross-section of an Aussie classroom

    Australia is home to more than 200 different languages and approximately one student in every four is learning English as an additional language (EAL). But the diversity doesn’t stop there. A recent national audit revealed that 19.4 percent of Australian students have a disability or learning difficulty. Students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, non-verbal learning disability (NLD), autism, language disorder or auditory processing difficulties are all represented by this statistic. It’s important to note that 65.9 percent of children with disabilities (aged 5-14) attend regular classes in mainstream schools. This means it’s common for all teachers, not just special education teachers, to encounter students with disabilities and language difficulties.

    In the last 10 years, there has also been an increase in primary school students presenting with high levels of anxiety. And let’s not forget our gifted learners – yet another group of students who require tailored tuition.

    This data shows that a typical Australian classroom must be able to accommodate a range of learning needs and abilities. Whether a student presents with a language disorder or has recently immigrated to the country, it falls to teachers to move each of their students forward in their learning. This is a huge responsibility – and no easy task. It’s one thing to believe in differentiated learning, but how does one deliver differentiated instruction?


    A classroom-based solution

    Differentiated teaching starts with getting to know your students – their prior knowledge, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Once you have this information, student needs can be incorporated during the lesson planning process.

    So how can you identify the areas where your students are struggling the most? Using an accurate and easy-to-use clinical assessment like WRAT-5 allows you to determine the academic level of your students. It can be used to assess and monitor reading, spelling, and math skills, and can help identify possible learning disorders. This type of early intervention allows for differentiated instruction to begin because once you know what your students know, you can tailor your pedagogy to their needs.

    Results from the first round of tests can be used as a benchmark for future testing, creating a way for you to measure each student’s progress. Tracking student learning will enable you to keep delivering differentiated instruction, and set you well on your way to improving learning for your students.

    This article is part of the Mind the Gap initiative that supports student wellbeing to improve learning outcomes. For more information about this topic, or any of the clinical assessments mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact Anisa Zulfiqar.

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  • Social & emotional learning: five key skills you can start teaching in your school

    Research is increasingly telling us that children and adolescents who learn social and emotional (SEL) skills achieve better academic development, physical health, and quality of life. 90 percent of educators believe that SEL skills directly benefit their students’ performance, and 80 percent of employers believe that SEL skills are extremely important to achieving success in the workplace.

    Learn about the five key skills you can start teaching, and how to implement an effective classroom system in your school.


    What is SEL?

    SEL is the process through which students acquire the knowledge and skills to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, empathise with others, cultivate positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. It provides a foundation for safe and positive learning, and teaches students resilience and life skills. A recent meta-analysis revealed that adoption of SEL programs led to a 22 percent increase in social and emotional skills, and an 11 percent increase in academic achievement.

    Separate studies have shown that having emotional and social skills can help increase the likelihood of high school graduation, readiness for postsecondary education, career success, positive relationships, and better mental health.

    Importance of social-emotional learning graph

    Setting students up for life: five key skills

    If we expect students to be ready for life after school, then classroom instruction must include the following social and emotional skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

    Each social and emotional skill is listed in more detail below, along with an example of how it can be promoted in the classroom.



    the ability to identify your emotions and tie thoughts and feelings to behaviours, leading to an awareness of how your words and emotions impact other people.

    Reflective tasks like journaling allow students to see their impact on the world.

    the ability to self-motivate, have self-control, and regulate your emotions.

    Breathing exercises, taking a break, and counting to five are tools that can help a student deal with strong emotions or learning anxiety.

    Social awareness:
    learning to embrace diversity and empathise.

    Role-play a social justice issue, or conflicts that arise in the playground, like bullying.

    Relationship skills:
    the ability to work cooperatively with other people to handle challenges and resolve conflict.

    Project-based group work can help students learn to compromise and work cooperatively together.

    Responsible decision-making:
    the capacity to consider the wellbeing of self and others, and ability to evaluate the consequences of various behaviours and actions.

    Ask students to debate an issue, or make pros and cons lists to help them listen to, and respect, others’ ideas.

    The importance of Response to Intervention (RTI)

    RTI is a multi-tiered framework that can help identify students with learning difficulties and provide evidence‐based early intervention. A student's response to instruction and intervention allows you to recognise which tier and level of intervention is appropriate for the student. Students in tier 1 and 2 respond well to general classroom instruction, and may only need smaller group intervention to help them catch up to their peers.

    Importance of social-emotional learning graph

    RTI also aims to identify the students in tier 3, usually 5% of the class, who are struggling the most as they lag behind their peers by more than 12 months. Students in this tier usually go through tier 1 and 2 without making major progress, and will therefore require a referral to an allied health professional for intensive, individualised intervention.

    This framework can also be used to identify students who have social, emotional, or behavioural difficulties, as well as academic difficulties. In this way, the RTI model can be helpful for improving learning of academic skills and social and emotional skills.


    The Social Skills Improvement System – Social-Emotional Learning (SSIS-SEL) Edition

    The good news is that social emotional learning skills can be taught and continuously improved using in-class assessment and intervention tool like SSIS-SEL. This assessment is based on the RTI model and provides evidence-based tools to screen, assess, and intervene for each of the five key emotional skills. The program can be used as a preventative framework for students who present minor to mid-range difficulties in tiers 1 and 2, and it can also be applied as a more comprehensive intervention tool for struggling students in tier 3. SSIS-SEL is a flexible clinical tool, it can be applied either as a classwide program, or as a targeted solution in smaller groups of students.

    SSIS-SEL is the only system that incorporates key academic skill areas, allowing you to assess the same skills that you teach. Using this system, you can support the development of social and emotional skills in each of your students.

    The screening assessment takes approximately 5 to 10 minutes to complete, the full assessment takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and the intervention modules take up to half an hour to complete.

    Importance of social-emotional learning graph


    This article is part of the Mind the Gap initiative, aimed at supporting student wellbeing to improve learning outcomes. For more information about supporting your special education or classroom teachers with effective assessment tools like SSIS-SEL, please feel free to contact Anisa Zulfiqar.

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  • Intellectual disability or language disorder?

    When a child has difficulty with language, it might also be assumed that they have an intellectual disability. But not all children who have trouble expressing or understanding spoken and written language will be diagnosed with an intellectual disability.

    Read on to learn more about the difference between intellectual disabilities and language disorders, and what you can do if you suspect a child needs professional help.

    Neurodevelopmental disorders are often noticed in the early years, from birth to five years. These disorders frequently co-exist. For example, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have an intellectual disability, and many children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have a specific learning disorder. Communication disorders include language disorder, speech sound disorder, social (pragmatic) communication disorder, and childhood-onset fluency disorder (stuttering) (DSM-5, 2013).


    What is an intellectual disability?

    When compared to their peers, children with an intellectual disability have greater difficulty learning new things, understanding concepts, solving problems, concentrating, and remembering.

    Many health professionals won’t officially diagnose very young children with an intellectual disability, preferring to wait and see if a child is simply a late bloomer.

    However, there can be some early warning signs:

    • Slow to sit, crawl, or walk
    • Delayed talking
    • Poor attention
    • Limited planning or problem-solving abilities (e.g. a child may be unable to play in a constructive way with toy building blocks)
    • Difficulty with understanding rules and instructions
    • Behavioural and social problems
    • Trouble with self-care tasks such as getting dressed, toileting, and feeding themselves

    It’s important to note that all children develop at different rates, some may start out slower but catch up as they get older - this doesn’t necessarily mean they have an intellectual disability. However, if you’re worried about how a child’s skills are developing, it’s best to have them assessed by a professional sooner, rather than later.


    What is a language disorder?

    A child who experiences difficulty finding the right words or speaking in clear sentences may be diagnosed with a language disorder. You might notice that they’re having trouble putting their thoughts into words, or perhaps having trouble following conversations with their peers.

    It’s important to also note that a language disorder is different from a speech disorder or a hearing impairment. Children with language disorders generally don’t have trouble hearing or pronouncing words. Their struggle is related to understanding and applying the rules of language - like using the correct grammar, and speaking in well-formed sentences. “Children with SLI [specific language impairment] may be intelligent and healthy in all regards except in the difficulty they have with language. They may, in fact, be extraordinarily bright and have high nonverbal IQs,” writes Margaret Ervin in The ASHA Leader.

    There are two main types of language disorders, ranging from mild to moderate or severe.

    1. Expressive language disorder: Having difficulties explaining, thinking, or expressing needs. Young children may have trouble with:

    • Asking questions
    • Naming objects
    • Using gestures
    • Putting words together into sentences
    • Learning songs and rhymes
    • Using correct pronouns, like "he" or "they"
    • Knowing how to start a conversation and keep it going (Source:

    2. Receptive language disorder: Having difficulties understanding language or meaning. Young children may have trouble with:

    • Understanding what gestures mean
    • Following directions
    • Answering questions
    • Identifying objects and pictures
    • Taking turns when talking with others (Source:


    I think a child might have language difficulties, what do I do?

    If you’re concerned that a child may be experiencing language difficulties, we recommend that a referral is made (with parental approval) to the school's learning support team.

    Parents and teachers will be invited to complete a checklist on the child’s development and learning abilities. The learning support teacher might also complete an initial language screening test using the CELF-5A&NZ Screener – a quick 15-minute test that accurately screens the child's oral and social language skills. The test results will recommend whether further investigation is required, in which case the child might be referred to a speech language pathologist, and/or a psychologist.

    These professionals may work together to determine if the child is simply a late bloomer, or if they have a language disorder and/or an intellectual disability. Both professionals play an important role:

    • A speech language pathologist assesses a child’s speech and language skills with standardised tests such as the CELF-5A&NZ
    • A psychologist measures IQ, including nonverbal intelligence and adaptive behaviour, for example, is the child able to toilet, dress, or feed him/herself independently. The psychologist can obtain an overall idea of the child’s intellectual abilities with tests such as the WISC-VA&NZ and Vineland-3.


    What’s next after diagnosis?

    If a child is diagnosed with a language disorder, a speech language pathologist can offer intervention strategies and support for parents and teachers to assist the child in the learning and social environments.

    Prevention strategies are key – the earlier a child's difficulties are identified, the greater their chance of improvement. If there are any concerns with a child's development and learning it is best to discuss these with your child's teacher; alternatively you can contact a speech language pathologist in your area.

    This article is part of the Mind the Gap initiative that supports student wellbeing to improve learning outcomes. For more information about this topic, or any of the clinical assessments mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact Anisa Zulfiqar.

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  • Are Teachers The Key To Vietnam’s Transformation?

    Fast changes are happening to Vietnam’s “tiger cub” economy. As the country transforms itself into one of the most dynamic in the world, the government is aiming to drive innovation with major revisions to its national curriculum. But will outdated teaching methodologies check the country’s chances of reaching its full potential?

    Leading Innovation, Not Following

    “Things in this part of the world move very fast,” Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan warns, “We are not talking about Vietnam as simply a follower of technology anymore, but as a leader.” Lan is the Chairwoman for EMG. Established in 2005 in Hanoi and expanding to Vietnam’s southern business hub of Ho Chi Minh City in 2010, the company have become a leading education provider in the dynamic Southeast Asian country. One of Vietnam’s first private education companies, EMG agreed to a wide-ranging partnership with Pearson last year that includes implementing the education company’s English proficiency assessments, international examinations and vocational qualifications.

    “The Vietnamese people are quick to notice trends. You can see that in our engagement with technologies like blockchain,” Mr. Vu Hai Long, Director of FPT’s Greenwich Collaboration College, part of the FPT Corporation, concurs. The two education specialists were in Da Nang, in February, at Pearson’s invitation to talk about how education can support Vietnam’s economic growth at the company’s “The Future Of Learning” conference.

    Mr. Vu Hai Long has seen the project to upskill Vietnam’s millennial generation bear fruit first-hand. “Fifteen years ago, FPT Software faced genuine difficulty finding the right people—there was a real skills shortage. We decided to invest in education primarily to help support our own business, but our focus on learning has meant young Vietnamese have been able to achieve success here while also entering the international job market,” Mr. Vu Hai Long adds.

    FPT is the largest IT company in Vietnam with over 10,000 software engineers and the corporation also run FPT University that currently has campuses in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City. Added to that FPT Greenwich Collaboration College offers courses under the supervision of the University of Greenwich which gives their students the opportunity to receive a world-class undergraduate education at an affordable cost.

    Forward-thinking Curriculum Changes

    However, despite FPT’s successes, question marks have arisen over the effectiveness of Vietnam’s higher education system. Many feel that Vietnam’s university programmes are producing some of the best trained graduates in the region, but also some of the worst. The Ministry of Education and Training’s Deputy Nguyen Minh Hien suggested the blame lay with teaching standards at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.

    “Looking back at my education, we were taught the book,” Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan elaborates about Vietnam’s pedagogical approach, “Today, in Vietnam, I do think the government recognizes that from K-12 we don’t want to box in our young generation. They think the curriculum should support our children’s growth and help them to achieve their full potential,” she adds about the prospective changes to the lives of the 1.8 million students in Hanoi and 1.6 million in Ho Chi Minh City who currently access kindergartens, schools, and high schools—besides many more nationwide.

    There does seem to be genuine government-level interest in using the national curriculum to further develop Vietnam’s school-age generation in readiness for the 21st century job market. According to Vietnam News, the revised curriculum “could very well shatter the typical image of Vietnamese schools as places where students learn the same things and have the same ideas.”

    The flexible competency-based curriculum, although still in its draft form, aims to offer a mix of traditional subjects such as maths, literature, foreign languages, geography, history, chemistry, biology, and computer science, with new subjects that focus on developing creativity and the cognitive and behavioral skills that will help graduates find and thrive in their jobs.

    “The government now is forward-thinking and they recognize the need to examine the impact of the curriculum on the learners. The major changes will be to focus on STEM and interdisciplinary learning, and they will also look to promote innovation and creative skills,” EMG’s Chairwoman, Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan, adds. “This also presents huge opportunities for publishers, as there will be widespread revisions to materials.”

    “It’s not going to be easy”

    However, originally scheduled for implementation in 2018, the curriculum is now likely to be introduced for the 2019-20 academic year. Besides worries over spiraling costs, behind the delays are further concerns about the abilities of the existing cohort of teachers to adapt to these significant changes—The Dean of Hanoi National University of Education suggested that in Vietnam as many as 90% of all teachers’ skills are substandard.

    Allied to the need for better trained teachers is a perceived requirement to move away from teachers preparing students for national exams, which often precludes the opportunity to develop soft skills. As one senior specialist reviewing the plans for the World Bank predicted: “It’s not going to be easy. The previous curriculum that was launched in 2001 with a similar idea failed because we didn’t have enough of the elements required, most importantly, competent teachers.”

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  • How long does it take to learn a new language?

    Students learning and collaborating

    “How long will it take me to learn English?” This is a question we often hear, especially with summer intensive courses just around the corner. Students all over the world want to know how much time and effort it will take them to master a new language.

    Teachers know the answer isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s dependent on lots of different things, such as; how different the second language is from their mother tongue, how old they are, whether they can speak other languages, how much time they will have to study outside the classroom, their motivation and ability to practice.

    The truth is, it takes A LOT of work to become proficient in a new language – and students need to be aware that they need to study independently if they want to progress rapidly.

    Explaining student responsibility

    Becoming truly proficient in a language can take many years. In a study carried out by Pearson they found that even for fast learners it can take as much as 760 hours to enter the B2 CEFR level from <A1.

    Also, most year-round courses are around 100-120 hours per level, (not including homework). So the reality is that it should take approximately 1000 hours to go from A1 to C2.

    However, one of the biggest misconceptions students have is that there is a “fixed route” to language learning and that this is linear – and that time spent studying in class is all that’s required to make the progress they expect. This mistakenly puts the onus on the teacher, rather than the student, which means they may not take responsibility for their own learning.

    While most language learners need great course materials, instruction, correction, and mentorship from their teachers, it’s key that they are motivated to become independent learners. Progress and success comes down to regular practice, feedback and the confidence to make and learn from mistakes. Students must understand this from the outset – so make sure this is a conversation you have with your classes from the very first day.

    Understanding language goals

    It’s also extremely important to understand your students’ language learning goals right away. Some, for example, will want to learn a language for travel purposes and may simply be happy to reach an elementary or pre-intermediate level of English. Others will want to learn it for work or study purposes and will need to reach a more advanced level. By definition “learning a new language” will be very different for those two groups of students – and this will affect how you design and deliver your course.

    Therefore, it’s key that you discuss individual learning objectives and then form a plan of how students will meet them. You should also explain that not everyone progresses at the same rate, but that is normal and should not be a cause for frustration.

    In private language schools (PLSs), which offer English for specific purposes (ESP), business English, CLIL, English for Academic purposes, intensive summer classes, and a range of other courses, it’s even more important to do this well. Correctly managed expectations, well selected materials, and tailored courses will keep students motivated and help the business thrive.

    Setting and meeting targets

    At an institutional level, schools, PLS’s and even government agencies also need to be aware of the pitfalls of rigid target setting.

    Not only can mishandled targets directly affect learner motivation when they are held back or moved up too quickly, but they also can force educators to “teach to the test”, rather than planning classes and designing courses that meet their students’ needs.

    On the other hand, standardized testing systems help place learners at the right level, set benchmarks and show student progression. Examinations also give students firm objectives to work towards.

    So, at the very least, management and governing authorities should consult with educators before setting broad targets.

    Handling feedback and adapting to individual needs

    When it comes to talking to individual students about their progress (good or bad), honesty is essential. It’s hard telling someone that they haven’t achieved the grades they need move on to the next level, but it’s the right thing to do. Putting a person in a higher level to save their feelings only leads to frustration, demotivation, and self-doubt. Likewise, when a student has done well, praise is good, but you should still be honest about the areas in which they need to improve.

    This is what happens at a successful PLS in Japan who run 1000 hour year-round intensive courses. They get results because they consult their learners in order to understand their goals and focus their courses on developing key communicative skills for professionals. At the same time, they track motivation levels and adjust their courses to ensure the student’s progress is on track to meet their expectations. Of course, this is quite a unique setting, with a very intensive, highly personalized approach, and the school has the advantage of tailor-making courses.

    Using tools to help

    They also used the Global Scale of English (GSE) to help design their curriculum and use the ‘can do’ descriptors to set goals. They then selected Versant assessments(which are mapped to scoring against the GSE) to measure student progress on a monthly basis.

    Educators can emulate their approach. By using tools like these, as well as others, such as the GSE Teacher Toolkit, you can design syllabi, plan classes, place students at the right level and measure individual progress, helping you meet your institution’s targets while supporting your learners to achieve their goals.

    An additional benefit from using the GSE, is that this granular framework breaks down what needs to be learned within a CEFR level, and our courseware, Placement, Progress and high stakes assessments, like PTE Academic, are already aligned to the GSE. To help accelerate the learner journey, our courseware now features three new levels – A2+, B1+ and B2+. By moving to eight level courses, it ensures students are able to master the content at a more achievable rate.

    Check out the Global Scale of English now and discover exactly how you can help your students to progress and meet their learning objectives.

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  • Extensive Reading and More with Graded Readers


    Graded readers (“GRs”), such as those that Pearson offers, are an excellent tool for students to use in a myriad of ways. Many teachers when thinking of graded readers, associate them with “extensive reading”. While that is naturally one of the major uses for GRs, there are many more that we will explore in this article.

    A brief overview of Extensive Reading

    Extensive reading is an excellent way, perhaps the best way, for students who are not in an English-speaking area to improve their overall language ability. Despite its name, extensive reading (“ER”) is *not* simply a way to improve one’s reading. It has been shown to improve all skills to some extent, with even listening showing significant improvement when students read a lot.

    While ER does improves students’ understanding of vocabulary, surprisingly its strength is not so much by adding new words to their vocabulary, but rather the way that it exposes learners to many more contexts of the words that they have already studied. It is this multiple exposure to the same words that allows them to develop a “feel” for how words are actually used in sentences.

    The same can be said about grammar. Rather than extending the learner’s grasp of difficult syntactic structures, ER allows them to become familiar with how the basic grammar of English is used, and probably *not* used, as well.

    Using Graded Readers

    Graded readers can be used in many ways. Of course, the most common way is for students to read books individually. This allows students to select books that are of interest to themselves, but perhaps not to the other students. This kind of reading is normally done outside of class time since it does not require a teacher and needs much more time than is possible during normal class hours.

    Class sets

    The most common meaning of “class set” is to have multiple copies of the same book so that everyone in the class can read the same story. Having all of the students read the same book, does have its advantages. You may have them all take the book home to read “extensively” but then in class, you can use the text for close reading to illustrate specific grammar points, vocabulary usage, or delve into the literary aspects of the story, guided by the activities you prepare, or take advantage of the activities provided in the text, such as those in the new Marvel series. You might even ask the students select their own activity from the “after you read” activities to share with the class.

    You may also make class sets of books that are all of the same level, such as a sufficient number of the Pearson English Readers“EasyStarts, ” so that everyone can select a different book, that can be read completely during class time.

    Reading Circles

    Students are formed into small groups of 4-6, and either assigned, or choose a book to read. Each student is assigned a specific role such as “leader,” “vocabulary master,” “character master,” “question maker,” “reporter” or “illustration commentator.” The students prepare individually and then in the next class, discuss what they have found with the others in their group. An extension of this activity would be for the reporter in each group to give a brief presentation to the entire class.


    I have had great success with the students doing brief presentations on their favorite book using a “carousel” approach. I put them into groups of 4 to 5. One student in each group shows his/her book to the class and describes the basic plot, their favorite character and something new that they learned from the text. After 3 minutes or so, the presenters rotate to the next group (in a circle) and repeat their talk, thus getting additional speaking practice based on their reading. After they are done, they return to their original group and the second person in the group does the same thing. You may have the students talk to a third or fourth group, but you need to allow sufficient time for every one in each group to have a set of turns. The students can use an evaluation sheet with a rubric with such items as “interest,” “degree of preparation,” “speaking without reading,” etc. that they can turn into you at the end of the class, or if they all have mobile devices, perhaps use that allows them to assess and comment on the other students' presentations based on a rubric that you devise.

    Keeping track of your students’ reading

    Charting your students’ progress, whether in number of books, pages or words allows the students to achieve more — either by challenging themselves or by competing with their classmates. You can track their reading by something as simple as a wall chart, or download a copy of the Google spreadsheet at and use it to create your own online progress report system that your students can access and fill in themselves.

    Perhaps the ultimate tool would be MReader, a free resource that allows students to take easy quizzes on the books that they have read and collect the covers of the books on their own personal home page. See the above website for further information.

    Getting more information

    See the Extensive Reading Foundation website, your one-stop site for more information on graded readers, how to implement ER with your class and many other topics relating to reading.

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  • Skilling Up For 2030: A View From Asia

    Globally, the way we work is changing. With 70% of jobs facing uncertainty, it will be employees with a mix of technical and soft skills that succeed. And we don’t need to look too far into the future to see that—it’s already happening across Asia. At Pearson’s conference on “The Future of Learning” held in Da Nang, Vietnam in February specially invited guests and senior Pearson staff discussed global trends and how they are impacting Vietnam and the region.

    First The Good News

    A recent report from Pearson and Nesta, in collaboration with Oxford Martin School, titled “The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030”, is encouraging the current—and future—workforce to “stop agonising and take action to skill up for the jobs of the future.” The result of a nuanced exploration of future employment trends, it suggests that while some jobs might become even more highly-prized in the future up to 70% could face uncertainty.

    “First the good news—robots aren’t taking our jobs, but they are changing the way we work. Occupations like those in the education, healthcare, and the wider public sector may even see a rise in demand. For those in jobs outside those professions workers can boost their prospects by investing in developing the right skills,” Rod Bristow, Pearson’s President of UK and Core Markets explains.

    Curriculum Changes That Support Innovation

    In Southeast Asia, governments are already looking to use curriculum to support the development of these kinds of skills. In Vietnam, the revised national curriculum, now due to be implemented in 2019, contains competencies such as self-control and self-learning, critical thinking and problem-solving, and collaboration and communication.

    “Things in this part of the world move very fast,” Ms. Nguyen Phuong Lan, the Chairwoman for EMG, one of Vietnam’s first private education companies, warns, “You can expect a lot of changes.” EMG was founded in Hanoi, in 2005, and the company has since expanded with offices now in Ho Chi Minh City. They have been perfectly positioned to see the changes that have been happening in Vietnam. “Global thinking and practice definitely applies to Vietnam. And there’s a lot of positivity going on in the way the government is looking to develop learners’ profiles in light of the demands of the 21st century,” she continues. “Students here have no choice but to grab the future [by developing] the skill to learn, unlearn and relearn. I think those are the most critical skills we can give to our young learners, and the changes to the curriculum should support that,” she adds.

    The Millennial Generation’s Impact On The Workplace

    It’s not just educators who are seeing signs of change. Employers in Vietnam are registering the impact the millennial generation is having in the professional sphere. “This generation, I feel, is more confident and adaptable in handling new situations and solving problems,” a senior representative for Vietnam Airlines’ Cabin Crew Division says. But he feels the changes aren’t all positive. “Work-readiness skills have developed considerably. Sometimes, however, this generation complete tasks quickly but with less accuracy,” he adds. “And when they feel they have enough experience they will change to another job. This is a challenge among companies in Vietnam today, and within my company too.”

    Other companies are reaping the benefits of engaging in forward-thinking education programmes to train and retain their future workforce. Mr. Vu Hai Long, Director of FPT’s Greenwich Collaboration College, part of the FPT Corporation, the largest technology company in Vietnam, remembers: “Fifteen years ago, FPT Software faced genuine difficulty finding the right people—there was a real skills shortage. We decided to invest in education primarily to help support our own business, but our focus on learning has meant young Vietnamese have been able to achieve success here while also entering the international job market.”

    “Embrace The Changes Happening Around Us”

    “It’s our responsibility to embrace the changes that are happening around us and not be passengers on the ride,” Alan Malcolm, Pearson’s Head of Asia, says about his responsibility to support the changing landscape with digitally-driven education solutions. “We need to continue to deliver on our promise to help people to grow in this changing environment. It’s about balancing this digital transformation with what we already have as educators getting data and as much as we can from technology, rather than looking at it as something that is going to replace the [effective] teaching practices and the education that’s going on now,” he continues.

    “Learning is such a personal thing, but it can also be incredibly social. It is complex, and there are contradictions, but we have to keep asking: How can we help people learn today? And how can we help them to continue to learn in the future? We are challenging ourselves, learners, and educators to think about that.” David Barnett, Pearson’s Managing Director for Asia Pacific, concludes about the changing education landscape in this region.

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