Get Students Working Together Online

By Dr. Ken Beatty

Think. What’s a common job that someone does individually, never working with others? It’s a surprisingly tough question. Astronauts, surgeons, and even star athletes don’t work on their own. Instead, they work with partners. Why then, is there such an emphasis in schools on students learning on their own and being assessed individually?

astronaut

Part of the answer is the traditional purpose of schools. In the last century, schools were sieves, sifting out more-able students from less-able students. The best students would go to universities, and the best graduates would get the best jobs. But many of those so-called top students left school without the people skills necessary to work with others. But language learning is–and always has been–different.

To learn a language, students need to use it. Students need to use critical thinking and communicate with others in speech and writing, just as they need to communicate with partners when they enter the world of work.

Your student textbook doubtlessly features many pair, small group, and whole class activities. Some of these are easy to do online using breakout room features found in Zoom (integrated into StartUp) and other meeting platforms. But there’s always much more you can do to promote student collaboration and increase students’ opportunities to use language. Here are six practical strategies you can use to get student engagement with English and with each other online. To better imagine them, consider a sample unit from StartUp, an eight-level English course for young adults and adults. Level 4, Unit 10, What will the future bring?

1 Change pairs tasks into group tasks: The following task asks students to remember things they’d learned, done, or decided by certain ages. Beyond comparing the answers with one partner, how could the task be expanded to include more partners? One way is to ask students to rate the most impressive one and then discuss in a group, ranking achievements. A second way is to ask students to talk to other members of the group in a rapid fashion, finding other students who had had the same achievements, perhaps at different ages, e.g., learning violin at ages 5 and 12. A third way is to ask students to create a group timeline and then talk about it: “When I was five and Emily was six, we each learned to swim.” The aim is to get students talking more.

Try it yourself activity from StartUp

2 Read and reflect: Each StartUp unit features a reading and each one is a topic that students can further research. Ask them to search online for related articles or stories, and share in central online file, such as a Google document. Make students responsible for making sure there are no duplicate readings. Each student then chooses two of the readings and reports on how they are similar or different. It’s a task that will naturally encourage students to read and reflect more widely.

3 Argue the opposite: The writing tasks in StartUp come with graphic organizers like the one below. In this task, students brainstorm about advice. Once students have finished filling in their outlines, they can photograph them with their phones or computers, and share them with the rest of the class. Each student then chooses one and argues the opposite, suggesting, in this case, why the advice might be bad. This helps to develop critical thinking skills.

4 Watch and explain: In StartUp Levels 1 to 4, an end-of-unit Put it Together project inspires students with a video, after which they answer a few comprehension questions to make sure they understand. They then go on to take or choose photos, or record a video, using their phones, then share it with the class to get feedback. One way to expand the activity is to have each student watch and explain another student’s photos or video, ensuring that they understand perfectly.

5 Take apart the test: Besides pairs of mid-term and final tests, each unit of StartUp offers two tests. Having two tests means that one can be given as a practice test, as formative assessment. Rather than just give students the answers, let them work together, comparing their own answers to see where they agree and differ. They can then peer teach the points that some students may not have understood. It’s not just about getting the right answers, it’s about making students more reflective and providing opportunities for them to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in an authentic way.

6 Connect students: The above tasks are all suited to classroom discussion, but to get students working together outside of class, they need to connect online, by email. However, privacy can be a problem; students should not be asked to share their permanent emails with the risk of them being shared with strangers, leading to cyberbullying. A solution is to ask each student to get a unique email for the class, such as a .gmail account. A sample email format might be studentfirstname_coursename@gmail.com. After the course is over, students can delete the accounts and continue communicating with trusted new friends on their permanent emails. 

Online learning is here to stay. Getting students comfortable with it is a great way for them to continue along the path of lifelong learning, personalizing their studies, making use of virtual resources, and connecting with other English language learners.


StartUp is the new general English course for adults and young adults who want to make their way in the world and need English to do it.


Dr. Ken Beatty has worked in secondary schools and universities in Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America. He is author of 77 textbooks for Pearson and has given 500+ teacher-training sessions and 100+ conference presentations in 33 countries. His most recent books are in the LEAP series and he is Series Consultant for StartUp.

Useful tips for your English classes

Browse the resources below to find some useful tips and resources for your English classes.

As our library of useful tips and articles grows, we’ll be adding to this page, so be sure to check it often.

Addressing the 4Cs with online learning
Click here to read and download the full article.
Priming the brain for teaching and learning: Mindfulness goes to the classroom
Click here to read and download the full article.
Reimagining student engagement in distance learning
Click here to read and download the full article.
How to find free grammar resources using the teacher toolkit
Click here to read and download the full article.

Citizenship Education in a Time of Transitions and Insurrection

US Capitol Building
By Bill Bliss

Important update, February 22, 2021:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it is reverting to the original (2008) version of the civics test for citizenship. We have updated our new citizenship site with information about the decision. Please visit pearsoneltusa.com/citizenship for more information and useful resources.


January 2021 was already going to be a time of transitions for our programs that prepare immigrants to become naturalized citizens. In addition to updating the answers to some civics test questions to reflect recent election results, we need to prepare for a transition to a new version of the civics test that poses challenges for our students and programs. And then came the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which demonstrated to many of our students the precariousness of the system of government they are learning about and the sudden fragility of some of the basic facts they need to know for the test, including the system of checks and balances among three branches of government, and the rules of presidential succession.

The Transitions: A New Administration and a New Civics Test

Every U.S. election can result in changes in answers to some of the civics questions for naturalization, which ask students to name the President, the Vice President, the Governor of their state, their Representative in Congress, the Speaker of the House, and one of their state’s U.S. Senators. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website offers a link with updates for the federal offices. For example, after the inauguration on January 20, the site will let us know the multiple ways students can name the new President, which will likely include Joseph R. Biden, Jr, Joseph Biden, Joe Biden, and possibly just Biden. (A link to the USCIS test update page is here.)

The greater transition challenge this year is the major revision of the civics test of U.S. history and government knowledge. The test is significantly more difficult and lengthier than the current version, which requires applicants to answer correctly six out of ten questions from an item pool of 100 possible questions. The new test requires applicants to answer correctly 12 out of 20 questions from an item pool of 128 possible questions. Many of the new questions are more difficult, use more complicated vocabulary, or are provoking controversy regarding their content. In addition, while the old test stops as soon as applicants answer six questions correctly, the new test requires applicants to answer all 20 questions regardless of whether they have already answered 12 correctly. This will potentially increase the amount of time that USCIS officers need to administer the civics portion of the exam and thereby result in longer and fewer interviews per day, further exacerbating the agency’s backlog in processing citizenship applications.

Given these concerns, many education programs, advocacy organizations, and others have submitted comments to USCIS calling for the new test to be rescinded or delayed until it can be further reviewed by the new administration. (My recent article describing issues with the new test is available here.) As of this writing, there has been no change in the policy, and the new test is required for all students whose citizenship application filing dates are December 1, 2020, and after. Students who filed prior to that date will take the old test. So unless there is a policy change, our citizenship education programs currently need to prepare students for two different sets of civics questions depending on their application dates. And since USCIS regional offices vary widely in their appointment backlogs, programs around the country will experience different percentages of students needing to prepare for the old and new test versions.

Here are some resources that show the comparison between the old and new sets of civics test questions:

A listing of the old test questions (with a comparison to the new questions) is available here.

A listing of the new test questions (with a comparison to the old questions) is available here.

A Voices of Freedom unit-by-unit integration of the old and new test questions is available here.

If you would like to provide comments or suggested edits to USCIS regarding any of the new test questions, you can send them to naturalizationtestrevision2019@uscis.dhs.gov.

The Insurrection

The attack on the Capitol on January 6 has had a profound impact on many of our immigrant students, whose reactions have ranged from shock and fear that an insurrection could occur in the United States, to a wary familiarity with such events from their experiences in their countries of origin. For many students in our civics classes, the principles of democracy and the stability of the government institutions they are studying are beacons of hope lighting their pathway to citizenship. Many cite the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as the fulfillment of a dream as they prepare to take the oath of allegiance at their naturalization ceremonies.

But many know too well from their home countries how fragile government institutions and people’s rights can be. Ironically, while one of the most important aspects of attaining citizenship is for our students to eventually be able to have relatives join them in the U.S. through family immigration, many students were hearing from those family members after the events at the Capitol to check on their safety and the stability of the United States.

When considering these events through the eyes of our students, it is also important to acknowledge that many of them have experienced the effects of growing anti-immigrant sentiment over the past few years, and many are in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting recession. These students’ motivations for acquiring citizenship therefore also may include the goal of increasing their safety and acceptance in the country as well as safeguarding their lives and livelihoods.

The challenges our students may be facing coupled with uncertainty surrounding the recent events may result in their having lots of questions, concerns, and a need to share during instructional time. Whether you are offering citizenship instruction or general English language instruction, and whether you are currently meeting with students remotely or in a classroom, here are links to some resources you may find useful for incorporating lessons or conversations about the U.S. Capitol insurrection:

“What Happened During the Insurrection at the US Capitol and Why?” – a resource from Facing History and Ourselves, is available here.

“Three ways to teach the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol” – a lesson plan with videos from the PBS Newshour, is available here.

“Lesson from an Insurrection” – interviews with 15 instructors about how they and their students have responded to the events, from the education news site The 74, is available here.

A “January 6, 2021 Resource Guide” – from the New York City Department of Education, is available here.

I am currently preparing an article on how immigrant students view the January 6 attack and invite you to share any writing about this by your students. If a student would like to have her or his photo included and give permission, please send any submissions to: bill.bliss@languageandcommunication.org.

Grammar on the Go and Beyond!: Pearson Modular Grammar Powered By Nearpod

By Christina Cavage

Today we are challenged in ways we have never been before. We are preparing to deliver classes both online and face-to-face. In our remote instruction, we are constantly seeking out tools that are accessible to our students as well as looking for ways to do those quick, formative checks in a digital environment. While in our face-to-face classes, we are often seeking out ways to deeper engage the iGeneration, and make lessons more appealing, yet just as effective. To complicate matters even more, costly texts often do not address all our student learning outcomes, leaving us to seek out additional materials.  These challenges can be overcome. The Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod was developed to meet and address these challenges. So, what exactly is it?

What is the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod?

Pearson Modular Grammar Powered by Nearpod is a library of grammar lessons built on Nearpod’s student engagement platform. Teachers can select the lessons they want to deliver in their classroom by adding them to their library. Once in your library, you can customize the lesson. By adding, deleting, or modifying the content you can give your students a truly tailored learning experience.

The Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod is organized by units. Within a unit there are several lessons. For example, the present time. This unit is organized around the theme of ‘Here and Now.’ There are four lessons within the unit, and every unit opens up with a section opener, and ends with a section closer. Take a look at the graphic below.

Structure of a unit

Once again, any of the content can be added to, or modified to meet the needs of your learners.

Activities and tasks are engaging. They include Collaborate!, a collaborative discussion board, matching, fill-ins, polls, open-ended tasks, draw-it activities, games, and more.  In summary, the flexibility and adaptability make the Pearson Grammar Modular Course Powered by Nearpod an excellent tool to supplement your current instruction, both in a face-to-face class and online, as well as in synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Collaborate! board

You can learn more here.

To experience the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod yourself, contact your sales specialist and ask for a demo. Find your rep here.

The Road to College and Career Readiness: Why It Just May Be Paved with Rigor

By Lia Conklin Olson

Perhaps you have heard the term rigor dropped now and again at staff meetings, professional development gatherings, and even in lunchroom conversations.  Lest the term lose its glitter from overuse, let’s consider why it may be worth its weight in gold.  When we as adult educators recognize the high stakes our students face and commit to the tall order of helping them succeed, we realize we need a high-yield investment.  Rigor may be just that investment, one that provides our students the successful returns this era of high stakes demands.

High stakes for ABE students

Let’s consider just how high the stakes are for our adult basic education (ABE) students.  The “Tipping Point” study (Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, 2005) found that individuals who completed one year of postsecondary education plus a credential had significantly higher earnings than individuals who held fewer than ten college credits.  A more recent study (Mancuso, 2015) again showed this disparity, finding that individuals who met the “tipping point” earned on average $6,265 per year more and were 23% more likely to be employed than those who did not.  High stakes, indeed.

That is exactly the reason behind the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act (WIOA; 2013-2014) that legislates rigorous instruction for all ABE students along a pathway towards college and careers readiness.  Since students requiring at least one remedial college class have college graduation rates 27% to 39% lower than students who require no remediation (Wiley, Wyatt, & Camara, 2011), college and career preparedness is specifically defined as “academic knowledge and skills required to qualify for placement into entry-level college credit coursework without remediation” (Camara, 2013, p. 22).  Therefore, to meet the high stakes, we must prepare all students for the rigor of college and careers and propel them toward the point where the balance tips from economic disparity to prosperity.

Credit: sirtravelalot.Shutterstock

Serving diverse needs of ABE students

When we consider these high stakes alongside the diverse needs of our ABE students, we recognize just how tall an order we, in partnership with our students, must fill.  Each year, the ABE field serves approximately 1.8 million adults (Patterson, 2016) from a pool of 36 million who would benefit from ABE services (Coalition of Adult Basic Education [COABE], n.d.).  Adult English language learners (ELLs) represent the largest portion of this population and present a wide variety of educational backgrounds and levels of language and literacy development, including students with limited and interrupted formal education (Lesgold & Welch-Ross, 2012).  Native-born ABE students are equally diverse with wide variation in level of knowledge and skills, educational goals, and prior educational experiences (Lesgold & Welch-Ross).  To magnify these needs further, 29% of all ABE students self-report having a learning disability (Mellard, 2013).

As ABE educators, we are ready and willing to step up and mediate the melee of student needs.  However, a number of professional and programmatic limitations often leave us ill-equipped to do so.  According to Patterson (2016), 78.6% of ABE teachers are part-time, which limits the preparation time and commitment teachers can provide.  Likewise, few ABE teachers have teaching preparation specific to the ABE population and limited professional development opportunities (Sun, 2010).  In addition, ABE programming is severely underfunded, receiving approximately one tenth the funding of the K12 system: $800 per ABE student in 2014 (COABE, n.d.) versus $11,009 per K12 student of the same year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).  Clearly, we are left with a tall order, indeed.

Rigor in instruction

What we can latch onto are instructional content and methods that offer our students an opportunity to meet this tall order as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Rigor may offer just this opportunity.  Researchers in education have defined rigor in a variety of ways.  The definition I favor is that of Hess (2014) which describes rigor as “the complexity of content, the cognitive engagement with that content, and the scope of the planned learning activities” (p. 1). This definition lends itself well to instructional considerations around content and material selection, deep student engagement, and the design of challenging learning tasks.

Regardless of the definition you prefer, rigor inherently requires the use of critical thinking and problem solving, skills that are overwhelmingly supported in the research as integral for success in college and careers (Camara, 2013; Conley, 2014; Foster, Strawn, & Duke-Benfield, 2011; Johnson & Parrish, 2010; Pimentel, 2013; Rothman, 2012).  Even adult learners who may not enter postsecondary education benefit from rigorous learning. According to Parrish (2016), when considering the increased literacy and critical thinking demands placed on adult ELLs as they compete in the job market and navigate everyday tasks, it is critical for ELL instructors “to imbed these higher order, more complex academic and career-readiness skills early and often at all levels of adult English language acquisition” (p. 3).

How well does ABE instruction deliver on its commitment to prepare ABE students for college and careers?  Johnson & Parrish (2010) surveyed college faculty and ABE instructors and found four critical gaps between what postsecondary faculty expected students to know upon entering postsecondary education and training and what ABE instructors were actually teaching: critical thinking, notetaking, technology, and presentation skills.  Of particular note, Johnson and Parrish found that 60% of college instructors regarded the critical thinking skills of paraphrasing, summarizing, and synthesizing as very or extremely important, whereas ABE instructors reported teaching these skills only sometimes or rarely.  Clearly, to deliver upon our commitment to our students’ success, we must better prepare them to meet the higher expectations of the future.

WIOA and its legislated rigorous content standards for all students provides the opportunity to do just that in earnest.  The College and Career Readiness (CCR) standards were designed to articulate the knowledge and skills needed to meet the rigorous demands of college and career readiness.  According to Pimentel (2013), these standards articulate three research-based instructional advances designed to increase instructional rigor by targeting high-impact cognitively demanding skills.  One of these key advances is regular student engagement with complex informational texts.  According to Williamson (2006), prior to the CCR standards, a gap of approximately four grade levels existed in the level of complexity between secondary texts and postsecondary texts.  In addition, the ACT study (2006) found the ability to read complex text to be the best predictor of college and career success.  Taken together, these studies indicate that developing the ability to read complex text may better prepare students for college and careers.

Credit: Shutterstock

According to Pimentel (2013), college faculty input and national assessment data indicated the use of evidence to be a critical skill for postsecondary preparation.  As such, the second key advance is a focus on student “reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text” (Pimentel, 2013, p. 10).  This focus ensures that students must rely on the text to develop their understanding, limiting the role of their prior knowledge and experiences and increasing the need to develop deeper understanding of the text itself.  Tied to this reliance on text is the third advance, “building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction” (Pimentel, 2013, p.10).  This advance recognizes the need for students to build their knowledge base through text in all content areas while developing the ability to read complex text and use critical thinking skills.

How do CCR standards live up to their design?  So far, there is little research available to support or dispute their effectiveness.  My dissertation, Minnesota Adult Educators’ Descriptions of Standards Implementation and Its Influence on Cognitive Rigor (Conklin Olson, 2017), set out to answer this question.  I interviewed 12 ABE instructors regarding their experiences implementing CCR standards in their classes and what they believed to be its impact on the cognitive rigor of their instruction and student learning.  Ten of 12 participants reported that their CCR standards implementation increased the rigor of their instruction and their students’ learning.  Participants described choosing more complex texts, implementing tasks that demanded increased cognitive rigor, and setting higher expectations for students.  In reference to student learning, participants reported that their students demonstrated higher levels of rigor, met increased expectations, and experienced increased confidence and self-reliance.  Obviously, more research is needed to measure the impact implementation of rigorous standards has on the learning outcomes of ABE students.  However, this small study offers a hopeful glimpse into its potential.

Even if we knew unequivocally that imbedding rigor via CCR-aligned standards would result in more successful student outcomes, we would still need to build our own knowledge and skills to exploit its potential to the fullest.  The LINCS website, under the auspices of U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, contains a full battery of professional development resources designed to train educators to enact rigorous instruction and effective implementation of CCR standards.  Equipped with high-quality, CCR-aligned instructional resources (be sure to access publisher-provided correlation charts or request them if not available), we are on our way to facilitating the high returns we envision for our students.

It’s true that a focus on college and career readiness demands a disconcerting concerted effort on the part of us and our students.  Yet, when we acknowledge the high stakes our students face, we recognize that these high stakes necessitate the tall order of preparing all students along a pathway to college and careers.  To fill that tall order, we must believe in the glitter of rigor, not as a flash in the pan, but as a 24-carat commitment to provide rigor-rich content, rigorous student engagement with that content, and rigorous knowledge and skill building along a pathway to college and careers.  True, all that glitters is not gold, but rigor…well, it just may be the real deal.


Lia Conklin Olson, PhD has been an instructor for St. Paul Adult Education for twenty years.  In addition, she is an adjunct professor for the Teaching English as a Foreign Language program at Hamline University and a curriculum developer of College and Career Readiness standards-aligned curriculum for Minneapolis Adult Education.  Dr. Olson is the author of the New Readers Press series What’s Next? (2012) and Bridging English Language Learners to GED Prep teacher’s guides (2017) as well as the series consultant for Road to Work (2017).  Dr. Olson focused her PhD dissertation on CCR standards implementation in Minnesota (Adult Basic Educators’ Descriptions of Standards Implementation and Its Influence on Cognitive Rigor; 2017).


The new edition of Future: English for Work, Life, and Academic Success integrates English language instruction with workforce, academic, and soft skills and the latest digital tools in one complete program. Built on the backbone of College and Career Readiness (CCR) and English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards, Future empowers students to successfully reach their work, life, and academic goals.

The new edition features increased rigor built into all lessons at every level that challenges students to analyze, evaluate, predict, infer, and problem-solve. Future‘s curriculum closely aligns with WIOA, NRS, ELPS, and CCRS. The skills and competencies are fully and seamlessly integrated in every lesson of the program, equipping learners with higher order skills to help them achieve their personal, professional, and educational goals. Future, 2E is the best solution to ensure your students’ success.

Learn more at www.pearsoneltusa.com/future2e

 

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Conley, D. T. (2014). The Common Core State Standards: Insight into their development and

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Johnson, K., & Parrish, B. (2010). Aligning instructional practices to meet the academic needs of

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services for immigrants and refugees. In A. Belzer (Ed.), Toward defining and improving quality in adult basic education: Issues and challenges (pp. 221–240). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.