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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  • Extensive Reading and More with Graded Readers

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    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.

    Presentations

    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 peereval.mobi 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 https://tinyurl.com/er-recordsheet 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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