Planning for success with the GSE

Pearson Languages
University students sat in a classroom at desks with a teacher speaking to them

The Global Scale of English (GSE) is the first truly global English language standard.

It consists of a detailed scale of language ability and learning objectives, forming the foundations of our courses and assessments at Pearson English.

The GSE was developed based on research involving over 6000 language teachers worldwide. The objective was to extend the current CEFR descriptor sets to enable the measurement of progression within a CEFR level – and also to address the learning needs of a wider group of students.

It can be used in conjunction with a current school curriculum and allows teachers to accurately measure their learners’ progress in all four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

GSE was introduced at the American Language Institute – an English language school run by the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA – with impressive results.

The American Language Institute

The Institute provides English courses for students who want to improve their English and prepares students to take the International Student English exam. They offer an intensive language program consisting of 20 hours of classes every week and 40 hours of self-study. This 60-hour week is designed to fast-track students from a lower level of English to a standard which allows them to participate successfully in college courses. There are five course levels offered, from A2+ to B2+ and class sizes average at around 10 students.

Most students at the Institute are full-time international students planning to attend the University of Toledo once their English language proficiency reaches the required standard. On average, they are between 18 and 20 years old, and enter the language program with a B1 level of English.

A mission statement

At the Institute, the main aim of the language courses is to help students develop their English skills to a level that will allow them to integrate successfully into the university community, not just academically but socially. In their own words; “Our ultimate goal isn’t to teach them how to take and pass language tests, but to teach them how to use English and engage themselves with the local communities.”

So how did the GSE, in conjunction with the Versant test and other Pearson products, help to achieve this goal?

Transitioning to a objectives-based curriculum

First, the course coordinator Dr Ting Li adopted the GSE for a more detailed approach to the CEFR. She found that the GSE “made the CEFR more manageable because it broke out the levels and outlined CEFR goals into different categories.”

Next, she replaced the current course materials with NorthStar Speaking & Listening, NorthStar Reading & Writing, and Focus on Grammar. These courses covered the areas taught in the previous curriculum, as well as the three key areas of study; literacy, speaking and listening, and grammar.

The instructors also began using Pearson English Connect, a digital platform for teachers and students.This gave them the flexibility to revise questions and reduce administrative burden due to the automatic grading feature.

Finally, the Institute started using the Versant English placement test to decide which level students should enter when they first begin studying at the Institute.

Key findings from the case study

The new curriculum was a great success. Students, teachers and administrators all found that the courses and assessments, all underpinned by the GSE, made the language learning experience smoother and easier. Once students had completed the highest level of the course and achieved a 3.0 GPA, they were able to transition smoothly into their courses at the University of Toledo.

The alignment between the NorthStar courses, the grammar study books and the Versant test was informed by the GSE. This meant students didn’t have to sit as many assessments as before, reducing time teachers had to spend setting and marking exams, and allowing them to focus more on supporting learners and the quality of their lessons.

Dr Li highlighted the following key benefits:

  • The Global Scale of English supports the development of a standardized curriculum and a consistent framework for teaching English
  • The average student GPA was highly related to the University of Toledo’s undergraduate GPA, which indicates that if students do well at the Institute, they will have a successful academic career. 
  • There was no group difference between graduates of the Institute and the average University of Toledo student GPA, which indicates that the Institute’s students perform as well as other international students who have been directly admitted to the university. 
  • There was no difference between credits earned 2 years into the university program compared with the general student population.

What’s more, the Institute was recently recognized by the Commission on English Language Accreditation (CEA), meaning that the course run by Dr Li is now nationally recognized. Using the GSE to inform the organization of the course curriculum made the accreditation process smoother and easier.

Working as a team

One of the main pieces of feedback from Dr Li and the Institute was how helpful they found the Pearson representatives, who offered excellent customer support, building a sense of a team between their representatives and the school. This very teamwork helped the Institute to fulfill the ambition in their mission statement. It makes for an inspiring story of how one school used the GSE to transform their curriculum, and achieved their goal of helping students to improve their English and achieve their academic ambitions.  

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    Why don’t my students speak English in class?

    By Silvia Minardi
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    Last year, I contributed to a national research project with an article titled “My Students Don’t Speak English in Class: Why?”. The title originated from a concern expressed by a language teacher involved in the project, highlighting a common challenge faced by numerous language teachers. The difficulty of developing learners’ production and interaction skills is a well-known issue in language education.

    Large and increasingly diverse classes, limited time, and learners’ reluctance to speak in class are significant hurdles. During pair and group work, students often revert to their first language (L1), they lack confidence in speaking activities and end up avoiding all interaction in English. These observations are consistent with recent Global Scale of English (GSE) research findings, which indicate that 52% of English learners leave formal education without confidence in their speaking skills.

    Factors contributing to learners’ reluctance

    Several factors contribute to students’ reluctance to speak English in class. Psychological barriers such as lack of motivation, shyness, low self-confidence, fear of making mistakes, anxiety and concerns about negative evaluation play a crucial role. Linguistic challenges, including limited vocabulary, poor pronunciation, and insufficient grammatical skills, further exacerbate the problem.

    Task-related issues can also hinder speaking, especially when tasks are not well-matched to the learner’s proficiency level or focus more on accuracy than communication. Additionally, the classroom environment may not always be conducive to speaking, particularly for learners who need more time to formulate their thoughts before speaking.

    Positive teacher impact

    Fortunately, teachers can positively influence these intertwined factors. By creating a supportive classroom atmosphere and implementing well-designed tasks that prioritize communication over perfection, teachers can encourage reluctant students to participate more actively in speaking activities.

    Leveraging technology: Mondly by Pearson

    One effective tool that can help address these challenges is Mondly by Pearson. This learning companion is especially beneficial for learners who are hesitant to speak in class. Mondly by Pearson offers over 500 minutes of speaking practice, encouraging learners to use English in real-life situations and tasks that prioritize action and communication over accuracy. This approach allows for mistakes - they are part of the game - thus fostering a positive mindset, which is essential if we want to enhance our learners’ speaking skills.

    AI-powered conversations

    A standout feature of Mondly by Pearson is its AI-powered conversation capability, thanks to advanced speech recognition software. Learners can engage in interactive role plays and conversations on topics of their choice, at their own pace, both in class and outside school. This flexibility helps build self-confidence and allows students to experiment with various production and interaction strategies. The instant feedback provided by Luna, the incorporated AI friend, is highly motivating and can significantly enhance the learning experience.

    Comprehensive skill development

    Mondly by Pearson is designed not only for speaking but also to develop all four language skills—listening, reading, writing and speaking—and is aligned with the Global Scale of English. The vocabulary for each topic is selected from the GSE vocabulary database, ensuring that learners are exposed to level-appropriate words and phrases.

    Integration into classroom teaching

    To facilitate the integration of Mondly by Pearson into classroom teaching, three GSE mapping booklets have recently been published. These booklets cater to different proficiency levels:

    • Beginner (GSE range: 10-42 / CEFR level: A1-A2+)
    • Intermediate (GSE range: 43-58 / CEFR level: B1-B1+)
    • Advanced (GSE range: 59-75 / CEFR level: B2-B2+)

    These resources provide practical guidance on how to incorporate Mondly by Pearson into lesson plans effectively, ensuring that the tool complements classroom activities and enhances overall language learning.

    Conclusion

    Encouraging students to speak English in class is a multifaceted challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding the various factors that contribute to learners’ reluctance and leveraging innovative tools like Mondly by Pearson, teachers can create a more engaging and supportive learning environment. This approach not only boosts students’ confidence in their speaking abilities but also fosters a more inclusive and interactive classroom atmosphere.

    Embracing technology and aligning teaching practices with modern educational standards, such as the Global Scale of English, can lead to significant improvements in language proficiency and student engagement.

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    Improving your business English vocabulary for the workplace

    By Charlotte Guest
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    So, you’re thinking about brushing up on your business English and learning new business vocabulary. In today’s corporate world, having a good handle on basic business terms and business lingo can really set you apart. It’s not just about sounding smart in meetings or crafting the perfect email, though that’s part of it. It’s about feeling more confident and fitting in seamlessly with your colleagues and clients from around the globe. Plus, knowing the right words and phrases can help you navigate tricky situations, negotiate better deals, and make a great impression on customers.

    Whether you’re attending business meetings, writing emails, or networking with colleagues, a strong grasp of business English vocabulary can set you apart and open doors to new opportunities.

    So, let’s dive in and explore some ways to improve your business English vocabulary.

  • A young child smiling in a classroom with a crayon in his hand.

    Young learners of English deserve more

    By Ehsan Gorji
    Reading time: 3 minutes

    Imagine a class of English language students aged 8 – 9 taught by a dynamic teacher they love. The young learners sit together for two hours, three times a week to learn English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The vibe they bring with them to the class, plus the dynamic teacher and the creativity she develops in her lesson plans, is fantastic.

    I have been observing trends in teaching EFL to young learners, and it is clear to me that school directors, syllabus generators, teachers, parents and learners are all satisfied with this image… “Hooray! Young learners sit together for two hours, three times a week to learn English as a Foreign Language. And the teacher is able to manage the class. Bravo!” But is it enough?

    What causes the lack of focus?

    It all begins with the coursebooks. If you take a coursebook for young learners and thumb through the ‘Scope and Sequence’ pages, you’ll see holistic definitions of language input in each unit. The school authorities then design a course based on the coursebook, and the snowball effect happens, whereby they design a course without specific details on what exactly to focus on.

    It is the teacher’s turn now. The creative and dynamic teacher provides an excellent classroom experience through which young learners can learn English together. She also assigns a piece of homework: write an email to a friend and tell her about your last holiday.

    When the teacher reviews the emails, she smiles as she finds many uses of the simple past tense—both in affirmative and negative forms. She then drafts an email thanking everyone and praising them generously. She includes a link to a PDF of other exercises to reinforce the grammar (the next day in class, they will review the completed handouts).

    This hardworking teacher tries to blend her style with digital literacy and applies creativity along the way. Everything seems perfect in her class, and she regularly receives emails from parents thanking her. Nevertheless, some questions remain: What was the task? What was the learning outcome? Which learning objective should have been tracked?

    Let’s reconsider the task – this time with our critic’s hat on – and analyze what has been taking place in this class. It is very nice that young learners sit together to learn English, and the teacher is able to manage the class successfully, but having fun and ease alone is not enough. We should aim for “fun, ease and outcomes”.*

    *Assessing Young Learners of English: Global and Local Perspectives, Dr Marianne Nikolov, 2016.

    Which important dynamics should be considered?

    The assigned piece of homework said: write an email to a friend and tell her about your last holiday. However, what actually occurred was a shift from this task to the students’ best performance in producing simple past-tense sentences. There are other important dynamics that have migrated out of the teacher’s focus. Did the students begin their emails appropriately? Was the tone appropriate? Did they pay attention to organizing their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs? Was the punctuation correct? Did they end their emails in the right way?

    If the coursebook had been equipped with clear and concrete learning objectives, the course directors would have employed them while designing study syllabuses, and the teacher would have used them when lesson planning. Consequently, the student’s formative and summative progress would have been evaluated against those detailed learning objectives rather than according to what some did better than the average.

    How can learning objectives be applied to tasks?

    With the Global Scale of English (GSE), publishers, course designers, teachers, and even parents can access a new world of English language teaching and testing. This global English language standard provides specific learning objectives for young learners that can be applied to tasks.

    For example, for our task, the GSE suggests the following learning objectives:

    • Can write short, simple personal emails/letters about familiar topics, given prompts or a model. (GSE 40/A2+)
    • Can use appropriate standard greetings and closings in simple, informal personal messages (e.g., postcards or emails). (GSE: 37/A2+)

    By applying language learning chunks – learning objectives, grammar and vocabulary – and identifying the can-do mission each one is supposed to accomplish, teaching and testing become more tangible, practical and measurable. Going back to my original scenario, it is excellent that young learners sit together for two hours, three times a week to learn English as a Foreign Language – provided that we know in detail which learning objectives to focus on, which skills to grow and what learning outcomes to expect.