News & insights

  • Understanding learner competencies through the Global Scale of English (GSE)

    As a teacher at a language school, one of my key interests is monitoring and understanding the journey of my students’ language progress. Sometimes, it can be a little disheartening realising that perhaps my best efforts are still not enough to help students who may not be responding to the coursework. I believe that as a teacher, there must be something I can improve on which can help all my students achieve maximum progress.

    Recently, I attended a session held by Pearson on The Global Scale of English. This session discusses The Global Scale of English (GSE), a standard to measure learner’s English competencies, and the GSE Teacher Toolkit. Below, I will tell you what I’ve gained from the session.

     

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    What is GSE?

    The Global Scale of English, or GSE for short, is a measurement that helps teachers to measure the competencies of English learners. The GSE’s development has been based on the CEFR model. CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) has been widely used by teachers, students, schools, and publishers to standardise language competency. It can be broken down into three groups of basic users (A), independent users (B), and proficient users (C), with two levels for each ‘user group’. CEFR contains a number of ‘can-do statements’. Each level in CEFR has its own ‘can- do statements’ which learners need to achieve in order to move to the higher level.

    Below is CEFR levels and their labels:

    CEFR Levels

    *source: https://www.english.com/blog/addressing-the-missing-levels-with-gse/

    Within schools, learners have a certain amount of time to complete a course and achieve ‘can-do statements’ of a CEFR level. As every learner’s ability and progress in learning is unique, not all learners progress at the same pace. Progress takes time, and each learner needs their own individual time to attain a certain level of competency.

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    In the long run, this creates a problem.

    A learner who has studied English for a long time may be assumed to belong to a particular level of CEFR (let’s say B1), but there is possibility that the learner belongs to between A2 and B1 instead. However, since the learner is placed in a B1 class, he or she needs to keep up with B1-level expectations. This can lead to difficulties for the learner in reaching maximum progress and obtaining a satisfactory learning result at the end of an English program. Up to this point, I can very much relate this scenario with some of my students.

    GSE aims to fill the gap. By quantifying each level of CEFR, GSE gives a more accurate manner of predicting learner’s competency in CEFR model. By having accurate knowledge of learner’s competency, teachers can be more precise in planning their lesson. Therefore, maximum progress of all students can take place.

    Below is a comparison between CEFR and GSE:

    GSE Tabel

    The above presents the GSE measuring table of proficiency in all language skills and levels based on the CEFR model. As we can see, there is a wide range between some CEFR levels (A2 to B1, B1 to B2, B2 to C1). Hence, a class of A2, for example, consists of learners with competency score 30 (near A1) to 42 (almost B1). GSE helps teachers in identifying the minimum and maximum point of learners’ competency, so that they can plan lessons in which no learner is left behind.

     

    Working with GSE

    A teacher who is planning a lesson to suit their student’s competency may consult GSE learning objectives by visiting GSE Teacher Toolkit page, https://www.english.com/gse/teacher-toolkit/user/lo . There is a GSE/CEFR scale, where buttons can be moved horizontally based on the score range intended.

    For example, if you have a class with A2 level, you can drag the left button on the scale to the minimum A2 score (30) and drag the right button to the maximum A2 score (42). See the picture below for an example:

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    On the left side there is a box to choose learner type and skill. For example if we chose to combine ‘adult learners’ and ‘reading’, by clicking the ‘show results’ you will get 22 learning objectives based on order of GSE scores.

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    Besides learning objectives, GSE Teacher Toolkit also provides Grammar and Vocabulary sections.

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    In the Grammar section, GSE Teacher Toolkit provides downloadable activities based on the chosen grammar category.

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    In the Vocabulary section, GSE Teacher Toolkit provides pronunciation with American and British accents, definitions, as well as collocation.

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    All the above facilities are easily accessed and free to use. These conveniences do not only save teacher’s time and energy, but most importantly they help teachers prepare the right course materials so that their learners get opportunities to reach maximum progress.

     

    Conclusion

    The Global Scale of English (GSE) provides at least four advantages for both teachers and learners:

    • Teacher obtain a better understanding of students’ individual competency. Therefore, they can prepare and adapt the right course materials in order to suit students’ needs.

    • The GSE Teacher Toolkit makes lesson planning simple, accurate, and easy to use.

    • Learners are given more opportunities to achieve maximum progress in learning English.

    • Recognised globally, GSE helps students to gain confidence in their language ability and competency acceptance.

    To learn more about the GSE Teacher’s Toolkit, please visit here.

     

    BIODATA

    WINDA HAPSARI is an English teacher and teacher educator at LIA Language School, Indonesia. She has been working with a variety of learners for about two decades. She earned her master’s degree in educational psychology from Universitas Indonesia. Besides teaching, she also conducts classroom / educational research and publishes some of her works. Her recent article, which she co- authored with a colleague, titled Teaching Reading to Encourage Critical Thinking and Collaborative Work is published by Springer in early 2018. Her interest includes areas of teacher professional development, teaching language skills, and motivation.

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  • Will Artificial Intelligence Become Pearson's Competitive Advantage in Language Testing?

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer limited to science fiction novels and the imagination. As we take steps closer to a full integration of AI and processing of information it can seem unsettling not knowing how it will affect the education realm itself. How will we approach something as complex and “human” as language testing using AI? Will the emergence of AI be a positive or negative influence on the way we approach it, and will it allow us to refine the testing process itself? Pearson’s very own Director of Academic Standards and Measurement Dr Rose Clesham discussed these questions and more recently at events in Singapore.

    AI Language testing

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    Dr Chlesham’s presentation entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence: Changing the Face of Formative and Summative Assessment’ outlines how computer-based tests such as the PTE Academic are at the forefront of harnessing the transformational power of AI in language assessments.

    The event, organised by PTE Academic at the Hilton Hotel, was well attended by clients and stakeholders from universities, colleges, language schools and education agents. Presenting as a keynote speaker, Dr Clesham explores new insights and revelations on the power and potential of AI to positively influence the way language assessment is conducted. She believes in the potential for AI to improve and refine the way language assessment is conducted globally.

    When discussing AI and its integration with education, many would be unsure of its suitability with language testing due to its complexity. Dr. Clesham, whose area of research is learning assessment, revealed to the conference that she too was initially in this line of thought. After all, AI is still not considered to be a genuine replacement for human intellect, how would a computer be able to gauge and assess the nuances and rhythm of human language?

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    Dr Clesham says that her views shifted as she engaged with AI and studied the applications. It was found that it was the complexity of language testing that made it a perfect fit for an AI to work with. For high stakes language testing on a global scale, there is a need for efficient, secure, and fair testing conditions which also adhere to a golden standard. Computer based tests that are facilitated through AI technology allows for these strict standards to be met, and provide every test taker to undergo the same experience.

    These issues can be avoided utilising AI. We rely on computers to perform routine tasks as they don’t get bored, they make fewer mistakes, and they are unbiased and unswayed by emotion or prejudice. By allowing AI to filter out the potential for human error we can provide more accurate test results, and in turn we can monitor the AI’s ability to give fair assessments.

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    Dr Clesham’s presentation was met with ripples of recognition and relatability throughout the presentation. One of these powerful ‘Ah-Ha’ moments came with the presentation of a side-by-side comparison of a proficient vs. non proficient speaker. The visualisation of sound wave measurements, and the explanation of the algorithm measuring fluency, accent, errors, and WPM, elicited nods of recognition and understanding from the crowd.

    Using PTE as an example, she stresses the importance of validating the AI marking engines by correlating and training them with massive inputs from expert markers. PTE Academic uses human markers as a safety net in the process; when the AI is presented with unrecognisable speaking or writing then the material referred to this safety net. This ensures that the test taker’s results are fair and balanced, and also helps to educate, validate and improve the AI marking system. In other words, if the AI is unable to process the information then expert markers step in to educate the AI.

    For those amongst the audience concerned with their roles being replaced by AI, Dr Clesham offered this advice:

    In other words, we must embrace AI and view it as a tool that will enable educators and testing to reach their full potential.

    After the talk, there was an interactive session where attendees were able to express their perspective on what they saw as either the strengths or drawbacks in using AI for language testing. The Q&A session during this time produced some useful insights, and some of the preconceptions and enduring notions that will need to be overcome in educating the market moving forward.

    We thank Dr Rose Clesham for giving us the opportunity to understand and explore this new era of education and the developments in the future for language testing.

    Written By: Gordon Vanstone, Client Relations Manager, PTE Academic

    If you would like to know more about PTE Academic please visit this site or contact me directly at gordon.vanstone@pearson.com

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  • Australian Government renews PTE Academic endorsement

    The Department of Home Affairs today renewed its endorsement of the Pearson Test of English Academic in supporting the Australian visa programme.

    “PTE Academic was first approved to support Australian visa applications in 2014 and has quickly become the test of choice for Australian student and migration visa applicants”, Pearson Australia, Managing Director, Mr David Barnett said.

    “The Department of Home Affairs has now ensured that PTE Academic will continue to be available to individuals applying for an Australian visa or permanent resident outcome.”

    With 50%+ growth in the numbers of people registering to take PTE Academic in recent years Pearson has now opened 5 new Pearson Professional Centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. Pearson has also expanded its network of partner test centres this year to offer testing on campus at the University of Queensland, UNSW, and the Gordon Institute of TAFE in Geelong. These highly secure test centres utilise state-of-the-art security measures including biometric data collection to ensure the security of the testing process.

    The Adelaide test centre was officially opened in October and attended by Minister for Trade and Investment Senator Simon Birmingham and South Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgeway MLC, where they were able to view a demonstration of the Pearson Test of English (PTE-Academic) test and an interactive tour of the new state-of-the-art centre.

    The guests tried their hand at the listening and speaking sections of the test with a few questions similar to those the test takers experience.

    “PTE Academic is based on the real-life English skills people need to live and work in Australia, making it the smart choice for work or study abroad,” Mr Barnett said.

    “The test was created in response to demand for a more accurate, objective, secure and relevant test of English and all 100% computer based.

    “Pearson’s innovative test design, use of automated scoring technology, and secure and easy-to-use test centres makes applying for local universities, job opportunities and further study as simple as possible for test-takers of all ages.

    “PTE Academic is the leading computer-based test of English for study abroad and immigration, because we can deliver test results typically within days, in comparison to other English language tests which provide results in a timeframe of 2-3 weeks.”

    With over 270 test centres around the globe the PTE Academic test centre network continues to grow. For more information about PTE Academic, go to https://pearsonpte.com/the-test/.

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  • The balance between hard and soft skills in Education

    “Pearson Day 2018 – What Makes A Learning Process Great?” held in various cities including the country’s capital Jakarta, particularly addressed the importance of incorporating soft skills in today’s education, specifically English education. The event was attended by 250 educators, showing the enthusiasm and shared hope for better education.

    Mario Herrera, an expert in children’s education who has been working with Pearson and authoring scores of English language learning books, emphasized in his presentations that a great and effective learning process is a result of the balance between hard skills and soft skills.

    Would you like to learn more? Watch the video below.

     

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  • Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

     

    Teaching learning

    Modern measures of language ability focus on performance, which, according to Philip Warwick, is good news for digital residents because learning a language can improve attention spans and executive function—two cognitive functions being negatively affected by our addiction to our devices.

    To study butterflies you can catch one and carry it home in alcohol, and then affix it to a board and examine it with a magnifying glass. Or you can spend time in the butterfly’s habitat watching it and understanding it.

    Teaching learning illustration

    Modern ideas about learning languages effectively tip towards the latter. Two related measures of performance, Pearson’s Global Scale of English (GSE) and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), both focus on what you can do in a language—the butterfly as a living thing in its environment—and not the intricacies of a language like its grammatical rules—the study of the butterfly through a magnifying glass. That’s not to say rules are unimportant. It’s just that rules underpin the ability to do things in a language and that’s become the focus.

    People who study butterflies are called “lepidopterists.” You wouldn’t teach that word to elementary students; maybe not even to advanced students. However, you might teach the word “lepidopterists” to a higher-level science or a CLIL class...or if you were teaching English to a class of zoologists.

    So, added to the idea of the primacy of performance—because learning a language is skills-based—is also the idea of teaching students by identifying their needs. This means moving from a “synthetic” approach,

    that’s linear, to an analytic approach, that looks to make the learning fit students’ requirements. This shift means teachers teach students using materials...instead of using materials to teach students.

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    In 1969, a British study set out to understand how long secondary school students could pay attention for in class. After visiting 250 secondary schools, the team decided that the teenagers’ attention spans were around fourteen-and-a-half-minutes long. When they conducted a further study in 1998, teenagers’ attention spans had fallen dramatically—to under five minutes. Although the survey team ran out of funding, there’s evidence that attention spans are even shorter today.

    In 2001, Dan Prensky famously wrote that we were either digital natives—teens and millennials born into the digital era; or digital immigrants people born before the digital era and who were struggling, to various degrees, to adapt to the changes. Now, it’s widely accepted that we’re all digital residents switching constantly between devices and filling downtime with screen time.

    The effects have been measured in another study, this one conducted in 2015 by Microsoft Corp. They found that people lose focus after around eight seconds. That study placed humans a little behind goldfish who are thought to be able to pay attention for a second or two longer, on average. Popular culture seems to be shifting to accommodate these changes: Instagram stories flash past in a couple of seconds; in May this year the musician Tierra Whack released an album that had fifteen tracks but that only lasted fifteen minutes; advertisers are being forced to make an impact in just six seconds—known as “the six” in modern industry parlance.

     

    Authentic Learning


    Nurturing the brain’s air traffic control system

    The set of mental skills called executive function is like “the air traffic control system at a busy airport.” It can be broken down into three basic dimensions. Our working memory is the cognitive function that allows us to temporarily hold information and retrieve it for immediate use. Working memory has also been connected with decision-making, behavior, and reasoning. Inhibitory control is an individual’s ability to resist natural or habitual impulses. And cognitive flexibility is the capacity to switch gears and adjust to changing demands, priorities, or perspectives.

    Although humans aren’t born with these skills, they are developed by engaging in meaningful social interactions and “activities that draw on self-regulatory skills” throughout childhood, adolescence, and into even adulthood. There are concerns that the development of these skills is being inhibited by “smartphone-related habits.” Harvard University have even issued an activities guide, “Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence,” with ways to actively develop cognitive function with toddlers, children, and adolescents.

    In their parenting resource, Harvard recommend hide-and-seek games and imitation games for 6- to 18-month olds. But by ages 3-5, one way they recommend to develop executive function is through “bilingual storytelling,” as, according to Harvard, “it has been found that bilingual children of many ages have better executive function skills than monolingual children.”

     

    study butterflies

    The importance of performance and teaching the class not the course

    Lots of ideas around teaching a language exist along a continuum. At one end, for example, might be accuracy and at the other end fluency. At one end there might be teacher-centered approaches, at the other student-centered classrooms. As these are continuum, depending on the class, the approach may swing slightly, and so a beginner class might necessitate a more teacher-centered approach.

    As resources like Harvard’s point to the importance of learning languages, and modern assessments, like the CEFR and Pearson’s GSE, focus on performance—what you can do in a language, not what you know about the language—the role of the language teacher has been validated. And a teacher who is student-centred, and allows learners lots of chances to talk in a program of study that’s tailored to their needs is likely to be successful. After all, a great teacher does all the work outside of the class and allows students to do all the work inside the class.

    Winnie has also noticed that her staff are less observant than before, perhaps because of their over-reliance on technology. “People are so focused on the screen they don’t realize what’s happening around them. There are times I want them to drop their devices and just be present and aware of what is happening,” she says.

    For more information and resources to support 21st Century teaching, please visit us at www.pearson.com/asia/educator/english-language

     

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  • 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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  • 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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