Transferring Skills for University Success

robyn_brinks_ps (1)  Robyn Brinks Lockwood, with Sara Davila 

The challenge of having a C1-level learner in class may be familiar to many teachers. You have an international student, who, for all intents and purposes, is a highly advanced English speaker who seems perfectly prepared for the challenge of university life. It’s easy to have a conversation, and the student can follow along in a discussion with other non-native English speakers with relative ease. There are no obvious gaps in vocabulary, and language use, with a few minor exceptions, is grammatically flawless. This is a learner that a teacher assumes would do well in any field of study. And yet, this very same student who is energized and ready to learn will suddenly end up in an English language course to further build their language skills. Why? What happened?

Essentially, regardless of C1-level learners’ high mastery of fluency with spoken communication, they are still not ready for the rigor of academic study required to be successful in academic classes in their field of specialization. In some ways, such learners are jumping off an English language-learning cliff. They are moving from classes with tightly leveled content for listening and reading and minimal writing requirements into an environment where the expectation of professors is that they have already attained the ability to successfully read and understand 50 or more pages of reading a day, participate in 90-minute lectures, and successfully write detailed and lengthy research-based papers. What can language teachers do to help address the needs of these already highly advanced learners? Continue reading

Preparing Intermediate and Advanced Learners for EAP Studies: More than a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

robyn_brinks_ps (1)Robyn Brinks Lockwood, with Sara Davila

 

One challenge facing instructors in second language programs today is providing a course that will be challenging and rigorous enough to ensure that students are prepared quickly and appropriately for their content classes at English-speaking universities. Perhaps students will only have one session in an EAP course to work on improving reading and writing to keep up with content for their degrees. Or maybe students need to take two or three classes to achieve an appropriate level of English language mastery to even be admitted into a university. Regardless, the role of the English language teacher in this environment is critical to a learner’s success in a degree program. The most effective teachers will be prepared to provide content that is appropriate and authentic to get learners on the college track and prepare them to meet and exceed expectations in their content programs.

Teachers can only provide such content when there is a clear understanding of what learners need to learn at this level. Students at this level often demonstrate a high degree of oral proficiency and can maintain and extend discourse with native speakers fairly fluently, so teachers often feel that they are already advanced enough to succeed in an L1 setting.

Despite this high degree of proficiency in speaking, these students struggle with reading and writing, especially lengthy, textbook chapter-length readings and writing assignments beyond the five-paragraph essay. The challenges may look similar enough to what teachers already recognize as problems for L2 learners; in other words, it is tempting to say the learners are all high-intermediate or even advanced and design a program accordingly. To do this, though, ignores the difference in proficiency between learners at these more advanced levels and fails to take students to the level they need to successfully survive in an L1 setting where they interact with L1 speakers rather than as part of a classroom where everyone is an L2 learner. In order to develop the ideal program, it helps to first define the differences between our highly skilled learners. Continue reading

N is for Note-taking*

Ken BeattyDr. Ken Beatty

“Now, remember, don’t tip your hat to another witch unless she tips hers first—you’re still an apprentice. And if you should come across some fellweed, be sure to pick it, but only if it’s the four-leaf variety. The five-leaf kind will rot your fingers.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

Mason made a mental note not to touch anything with five leaves.

Cowel made a mental note not to touch anything. (Anderson, 2007)

I can’t remember the book in which I first read the term mental note, but I remember the author used it excessively. My 12-year-old self was following the adventures of some junior adventurer who used these mental notes as a cheap plot device to foreshadow further adventures and drum up anticipation. But I found the idea enchanting: my own brain could hide a secret vault brimming with my wild ideas.

Now, like all adults, I find my secret mental vault over-stuffed and increasingly less secure with short-term memories more susceptible to decay, and my ability to retrieve mental notes is sometimes akin to reading words written in smoke. To compensate, I make lists, sometimes on paper and sometimes on my laptop. I flirt with phone apps that promise to organize my notes for me, but generally find them unwieldy. Continue reading

Is Your Content Challenging Your Learners?

Sara DavilaSara Davila

Learning Without Progress

I worked overseas for a number of years in a variety of settings, spending the longest time in Korea with students at almost every point on their language learning journey from kindergarten to university. One thing that was always fascinating to me was how much time learners devoted to language study versus what little progress they would make over the years. When I asked my A2-level university class how many years they had spent studying English, a majority of students reported that they spent roughly 10 years learning English, many in private schools or with private tutors. It was an alarming amount of study devoted to learning a language with little progress made. At the time I found myself asking why and dug in a bit more to understand the problem. Countless hours of research, interviews, and analysis of course materials later, I came to the conclusion that my students were never challenged beyond what they could do. Once they had achieved a certain ability, much like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, every English class was a constant repetition of information my students had already learned. With this in mind, it becomes even more important for teachers to have a sense of their learners’ level of ability so that they can provide content that will appropriately challenge learners in the classroom.

Content Creation and Challenge

In my last blog I spent a lot of time talking about communicating students’ ability to perform in English. To recap, using the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), we can give a quick, easy-to-understand, description of learner performance using a validated, publicly available scale. When talking to colleagues and peers in the field I no longer say my students are “low-intermediate.” I say they are “B1.” For those in the know, this provides a great deal more information about what a teacher can expect students to be able to do in the classroom. The Global Scale of English (GSE) allows me to get even more specific about the skills and abilities of my students by providing a data-driven teacher-calibrated bank of descriptors in three distinct categories: General Adult English, Academic English, and Professional (Business) English. Continue reading

“Webinars – a wonderful substitute for live seminars”
Pearson Professional Development Webinar Series

speech_teacups_blue_bannerIn October 2015, U.S. Pearson ELT conducted an idea-packed Professional Development Webinar series, consisting of 13 one-hour sessions. The goal of the webinar series was to provide thousands of instructors and administrators around the world with multiple opportunities to learn from English-language teaching experts. Topics included:

  • “Exploring the Potential of the Flipped Classroom” by Robyn Brinks Lockwood
  • “Teaching with Technology and 21st Century Skills” by Sara Davila
  • “Using Our Brains: Brain-based Approaches to Teaching” by Sarah Lynn
  • “Critical Thinking in English for Academic Purposes” by Ken Beatty
  • “Four Skills Teaching” by Sara Davila
  • “Critical Reading Skills for College and University Students” by Tania Pattison
  •  “Academic Writing Assignments: Teaching Discourse Synthesis” by Carol Numrich
  • “Creating Authenticity in the English Classroom” by Ken Beatty
  • “Addressing Learner Needs Around Spoken Academic English” by Ken Beatty
  • “Extend and Engage: Digital Learning” by Christina Cavage

An overwhelming number of teachers who attended commented that they were able to get ideas from the webinars that they could start using right away. One teacher commented: “Thank you for these past two weeks of webinars. I appreciate having plenty of new ideas to use in my classroom.” The recorded webinars are available in the US website (registration is required to view the recordings).

A total of 4,359 people registered for the webinars, and 2,120 people attended the sessions. Another teacher commented: “Really enjoyed this webinar; very useful content and explanations of how to utilize this information in the classroom.”­ A third teacher responded about the content of the webinars: “As usual, my ‘teacher’s imagination’ has been stimulated by ideas presented in this webinar. I especially appreciate the insights, too.”

Webinar_Country_Cht

Teachers from 25 countries attended the webinar series.

Countries Represented (ranked by number of attendees)

Webinar_graph

United States represented almost half the attendees. Other countries represented: Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Oman, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Vietnam. Each of these countries represents less than 2% of the total attendees.

One participant summed it up perfectly: “Webinars are a wonderful substitute for live seminars, which cost time and money, and I commend you for organizing these amazing sessions! Already looking forward to the next ones!”

The U.S. ELT marketing team is already hard at work developing topics and scheduling for the next webinar series, possibly in spring 2016. Click here to receive updates on the next series of webinars.