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  • A young boy in a room full of books thining with his hand to his head, there is a lightbulb graphic above him
    • Teaching trends and techniques
    • Language teaching

    Success beyond class: Critical thinking skills and academic english

    By Pearson Languages

    English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes are designed to prepare students for higher education delivered in English. Students are expected to hold their own among a class full of fluent English speakers. So it’s essential that they have not only the language skills, but the academic and social skills that tertiary education demands today. And it’s up to teachers to ensure our students develop these skills – but that requires a balancing act.

    Many EAP courses lack the authenticity of the college classroom experience. Lectures are generally relatively short, only 5-10 minutes long. Reading is scaffolded, and the content is very structured, even overly structured. Then, our students move into their academic courses where they encounter two-hour lectures, 50+ pages of reading, and content that is far from scaffolded. So, how do we bridge these academic, linguistic and social gaps? Let’s look at some techniques to help students succeed in higher education.

    Bridging the linguistic gap

    Linguistics gaps may involve content-specific language, or the informal language students encounter when they work with other students, or the connotative and denotative meanings and contexts of a word. To bridge this gap, we need to build deep conceptual vocabulary knowledge. We don’t want students only to have label knowledge. Label knowledge allows students to pass a vocabulary text where matching or multiple choice is present. But that is not enough in an academic environment. Deep conceptual knowledge means truly knowing a word.

    So, what does it mean to know a word? Well, according to linguistics scholar Paul Nation, a student needs to know the following:

    • The spoken and written form 
    • The parts of the word that have meaning
    • The word's forms and their meanings
    • The concepts and vocabulary associated with the word
    • The grammatical function, any collocations
    • The register and frequency of the word

    That is a whole lot!

    To build this extensive knowledge, we need to do so in an intentional manner. We need to build various activities that develop and foster critical thinking skills and engage students.

    Here is an example:

    “Hello! I am so glad to see so many of you at our special lecture today. Today, I am going to describe how a mixed community is planned and built. First, let’s look at what a mixed purpose community is, and then we will discuss the planning and building. As many of you know, a mixed purpose community is a neighborhood that includes residential spaces, business spaces, services and green spaces. How about the planning? First, when planning mixed purpose communities, architects, city planners and builders work together to plan where everything will be located. Because they want the community to be a fully walkable one, they need to think about how far homes are from schools, services and other businesses. Then, they carefully look at what kinds of businesses and services are needed. Next, they must design sidewalks so people can easily get to anywhere in the community, and not worry about car traffic. Today, planners are even looking at including bicycle paths, as more and more people are riding bicycles to work. Lastly, they need to consider the different types of residential space they will need. They build homes and apartments to attract all a wide variety of residents. These communities are becoming more and more popular, but planning them still takes time and a team of people.”

    The terms mixed and community are bolded. You can engage students with a simple noticing activity of how these words are used, the forms they take, the words around them, their collocations and the concepts associated with these words. An exercise like this will help students develop a deep understanding of these words. And that deep understanding will enable students to make connections and draw conclusions around these terms.

    Bridging the academic gap

    EAP students move from very scaffolded EAP courses to courses where they must listen and take notes for 50 minutes or read 50+ pages before class. Additionally, their professors often do not build background knowledge, or scaffold learning, as they expect students to enter their classrooms with this understanding. And this can create an academic gap.

    When it comes to bridging this gap, content can be the vehicle for instruction. Exposing students to the language of academic disciplines early on can build background knowledge, and be highly motivating for students who crave more than rote language instruction.

    Bringing the social gap

    When students enter their university courses they will be expected to work with peers, engage in group activities, negotiate, take turns and assert their own ideas into a dialogue. These social skills require language which needs to be developed and practiced in their EAP courses.
    You can do this by building instructional tasks and learning around developing and practicing critical thinking skills. Consider introducing project-based learning to your class. In project-based learning, students must work with their peers, learning how to prioritize, negotiate and assign responsibility. Bringing in these types of tasks and activities helps develop soft and critical thinking skills.

  • Group of Young Children sat on the floor, laughing with a teacher
    • Language teaching
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    3 creative routines to help foster a safe learning environment

    By Pearson Languages

    “The world is undergoing revolutionary changes, we need a revolution in education too.” - Creative Schools, Ken Robinson 

    In February 2006, the late Sir Ken Robinson delivered a talk at TED titled: “Do schools kill creativity?”. This was some years ago and time seems to have stood still in education since then. 

    Creativity is a key 21st century skill. Our young students need to harness it in order to be successful in further education and the workplace, especially now that technology is advancing at such a rapid rate. 

    So what can we do to encourage creativity and create a safe learning environment? I’ll take you through three activities that I use with my own students to help them flourish. 

    Clear and structured objectives 

    To nurture and encourage creativity in the classroom, it is important to have clear, well-structured objectives and routines that give students a safe learning environment. Here’s a breakdown of a few you can try in your classroom. 

    1. Monday activity 

    As part of your routine, do something different every Monday and have your students guess what it is. For example, you could change your earrings or only wear one. You could shave your mustache, wear a hat, or do something less obvious. 

    Students should participate too, so have them do something different every week. Select a student in the class and everyone must guess what has changed that Monday. 

    This activity is designed to encourage students to pay attention to each student in the class and notice things about them during the week. At the same time, it will encourage them to be creative and think about how to do things differently and mix up their own routines. 

    2. Friday team building challenge 

    Every Friday, my class play a team building challenge activity which helps them set and follow rules, be respectful to one another, and work and play with students from different circles. 

    Here’s a simple, energetic team building activity you could try: 

    • Have students call out all the new vocabulary words they learned during the week. Write them on the board as they do so.
    • Split the class into teams of four or five students.
    • Tell them they have to use their bodies to spell each word (if there are lots of words, pick the top three). Wipe the word off the board and explain that they can stand up, lie down, and use their arms and legs – but they should work together to form the shapes of the letters. The first team that correctly spells the word you dictate wins a point!

    3. "Hurray, I failed” activity 

    The final activity is all about celebrating failure. Start by putting students in a circle or a line, and have them each name a color out loud. If someone repeats a color or takes longer than five seconds to answer, they must stand up, dance, and shout “hurray, I failed!” as loudly as possible. 

    You can select any topic – such as nouns, countries, or, even better, your students’ interests. The intention is to create a safe learning environment for your class, where students feel supported and being wrong is fun and okay. This will enable students to participate in class without fear of judgment or criticism. 

    Try it out until your students become comfortable with dancing and 'hurraying' in front of everyone in the group. 

    This activity has yielded fantastic results with groups of people I’ve worked with, regardless of their age group (young, old, junior high). Participants may feel silly or shy, until one participant starts doing it for fun, and then the rest of the group will start feeling comfortable with being wrong. They will realize it’s okay, and the exercise will start to flow with greater ease. 

    If your group is shyer or your students are more introverted, you can ask the person who makes a mistake to wear a silly hat – until the next person fails.

  • Older Woman with glasses sitting at a laptop
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    12 tips for training older teachers in technology

    By Pearson Languages

    An assumption persists in the educational community that more mature teachers are much more difficult and reluctant to be trained on the effective use of educational technology. To some degree, I think this assumption has been built on by the digital native vs digital immigrant myth. But as someone who has trained teachers of all ages all over the world, I would say that, from my own experience, this hasn’t been the case.

    What I have found to be the case is that more mature teachers are:

    • less likely to be lured by the shiny hardware and the seemingly wonderful claims made to go along with it.
    • more critical and skeptical about the way technology is used in the classroom.
    • less confident when using various apps and websites and less likely to explore the different features.
    • more easily discouraged by failures.
    • less familiar with various tools, applications and services that have become part of everyday life for younger users.
    • more likely to be able to see through “technology for technology’s sake” classroom applications.

    So how should trainers approach the challenges of working with these teachers? Here are a few tips from my own experience of training older teachers to use technology.

    Be sure of your ground pedagogically

    So many edtech trainers are great with technology, but much less versed in educational theory and pedagogy. More mature teachers are more likely to have a more robust theoretical understanding, so be prepared to back up your ideas with sound pedagogical insights and try to relate your training back to theories of learning and pedagogical approaches. 

    Make sure training is hands-on

    Running through a list of tools and ideas in a presentation may have some value, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the impact of giving teachers hands-on experience and the chance to actually work with the tech to create something. 

    Give solid examples of what you have done

    Being able to speak from experience about how you have used tech with your own students will have far more impact than theoretical applications of “You could do blah blah blah with your students.” Sharing anecdotes of how you have used technology in your classes, the challenges you have faced and how you have overcome or even been overcome by them can really lend credibility to your training. 

    Manage expectations

    A positive attitude is great, but be also prepared to point out weaknesses, and potential pitfalls and talk about your own failures. This might help your trainees avoid the same mistakes and stop them from becoming disillusioned. 

    Make time to experiment and explore

    Don’t be tempted to cram in as many tools, techniques and activities as possible. Incorporate project time into your training so that teachers have the chance to go away and explore the things that interest them most and get their own perspective on how they can use them with students. 

    Back up technical training

    Learning to use new tools is getting easier all the time, especially on mobile, but it’s still relatively easy for teachers to forget which button to press or which link to follow. So back up any demonstrations with an illustrated step-by-step guide or a video tutorial that teachers can return to later. 

    Make their lives easier

    Using technologies that can make what they already do a bit easier or a bit quicker is a great way to start. For example, I have a link to a tool that really quickly creates a cloze test activity. Sharing tools like this that start from what teachers already do can really help to get them on your side. 

    Do things that can’t be done

    One of the most common remarks made by more mature teachers about technology is: “Well, that’s fine, but you can do that without tech by …” If you can show examples of technology use that go beyond what is already possible in the classroom, then you are much more likely to get capture their enthusiasm. One example of this is the use of collaborative writing tools like PrimaryPad and its ability to track, record and show how students constructed text.

    Solve classroom problems

    Being able to spot a genuine classroom problem and show how technology can solve it can be very persuasive. One example of this is gist reading which can be very challenging to teach because students tend to ignore time limits. Cue Prompters can give teachers control of the text and push students to gist read at the speed the teacher chooses. Problem solved. 

    Plan with long-term and short-term goals

    However inspiring your training session is, and however short or long it is, you should ensure that teachers leave it with a plan. SMART Plans are great if you have time to work on them with the teachers. If you don’t have time to get them to create individual SMART plans, at least get them to think about the first step or the first technology application they will try in their classroom and what they will do with it. 

    Tech can be implemented in CPD

    One of the reasons many mature teachers feel less confident with tech is because they often only use it in the classroom. Showing how technology can become part of their own self-guided CPD and professional practice, and helping them to build their PLN can energize their technology use and make their development much more autonomous and long-lasting. 

    Make sure everything works

    I can’t emphasize this enough. Make sure you have updated all your plugins, browser versions, etc., and check the network and connectivity and make sure everything runs smoothly. Nothing puts teachers off more quickly than seeing the trainer fail.

    Having read this list of tips you are likely to think: “But all technology training should be like that!” Yes, you are right it should, but the truth is we are more likely to be able to get away with lower standards when working with teachers who are already more enthusiastic about tech. So the next time you walk into a training room and see some older teachers there, don’t groan with disappointment, but welcome the opportunity to test your skills and understanding with the most critical audience. If you can send them away motivated to use technology, then you know you are on the right track. 

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