How to Assess in Theme-based Learning

Formative and summative assessments need to be approached a bit differently from standardized testing to assess progress in language acquisition throughout the school term.   Some benefits of Theme-based Learning assessment strategies are that they are much less stressful for the students and usually provide a more accurate evaluation of what your students have learned and remember rather than what they have memorized for a test.

Summative Assessment ideas:

  • Individual, Group Project, or Collaborative Class Project – long-term, puts together all the things they have learned
    • Create a board game using language learned in classFilm a pantomime with 1 or 2 narrators or voice-oversCreate Neighborhood mapsBook creator – create a book (online or paper) related to the units studied and connect them under the themeDioramaPresentationReport/Essay
    • Scavenger Hunt (complex): Create questions based on a unit or story you students just completed.  Students find items by answering the questions which gives them a clue to answer the next or other questions on the list.

RUBRICS

For summative assessments in Theme-Based Learning always have a good analytical rubric. 
It will make your job easier and it will make it easy to explain goals and results to students (and parents).

*See padlet for sample rubrics & Theme Project Examples for Summative Assessments

https://padlet.com/GIFLE/56wwqb3e6oqjoj4g

Formative Assessment ideas:

  • Quick questions: while students are working on projects or assignments to check if they are going the right direction.
    • Concept Map (a visual plan of their ideas or a summary of a story you read or they are reading)Transfer the Concept: example – students have learned prepositions of space (in, on, under, next to), then give them different situations to use the new language such an images of inside a home, businesses along a street, freeze a scene from a movie, or get them to draw their favorite place and label items there or write sentences about the items in the picture.Survey game (Find Someone Who…. BINGO) using BINGO cards related to the topic with sentence scaffolding.Then get students to share the information they collected:
      What does _____ like to do on the weekend?
      She/He likes to ___________.Picture Dictation: draw what you hear.Peer instruction: one student teaches another how to do something related to the topic/themeShort interviews with students (usually one-on-one)Scavenger Hunt (simple): Create clues based on a unit or story your students are studying.  Students find items around the classroom that match the clues and write them down on the paper or collect the item. (ie/Find a blue book about animals).Graffiti Wall: large poster papers with questions or topics on them are put up in sections around the room, and students walk around and write or draw answers with markers.Graphic Organizers: Mind maps, Venn Diagrams, character/subject charts.
    • KWL chart: students fill in the first 2 sections before they study and the last column after the lesson or unit.

Image: Kristina Kauss 2022, based on data from KWL Example – Seasons Storyboard by Natasha Lupiani

Activity: Post Reading Assessments.

Are the following examples Formative or Summative forms of evaluation?  

Write either F or S.

  1. ___ A book review
  2. ___A drawing of a scene from a book
  3. ___A book report
  4. ___A skit that replays a scene from a book
  5. ___Designing a cover for a book
  6. ___Create a poster to promote the book
  7. ___Having a discussion about a book
  8. ___Writing some sentences about what the student
           thinks will happen next in a book
  9. ___Talk about characters or scenes from the book

EXAMPLES of adapting school textbooks to Theme-Based Learning

  • Use dialogues in the textbook, but personalize them based on student interests and experiences connected to the theme.
  • Change textbook stories and reading passages into Interactive Dramatic Reading activities with follow-up speaking or writing prompts that utilize reading comprehension strategies. 

Ask students questions about how the reading material connects to the theme you have chosen to bridge the different units.

  • Change grammar or pronunciation lessons from the textbook into concept attainment lessons. (Strategy created by Jerome Bruner that encourages critical thinking.
    A teacher shows students a group of pictures/ words and then asks what the common theme is in pictures or words).  

      • Example: if a teacher wanted to teach students about FoodThe teacher has a stack of cards, each card with a picture of types of food. The teacher does not tell the students the topic, but asks them to instead guess the common theme.
      • OR the teacher has the students group cards into different themes.
  • Going beyond what the textbooks provide.  Create projects and games that tie together content from multiple units.
  • Mix up the units.  You are not required to teach every unit in order.

Teacher Terminology: a (hopefully) Useful List of Definitions

When I was preparing for my interview at GIFLE, I suddenly realized that I had to pretend to actually know something about teaching if I wanted to land the job. This meant familiarizing myself with various forms of educational jargon. So I spent some time combing over the internet for any sort of teacher-y sounding words I could find. And it must have worked, since I got the job! But, once I actually started doing the job, I realized there were still tons of words I didn’t know. Thankfully, I found that my co-workers were understanding enough that they didn’t judge me for asking questions, and in the long run, I learned a whole wealth of words and terms I had never learned at my previous job. I hope that other teachers in a similar situation as mine can benefit from my experience. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of various terms and words I’ve learned that have been helpful for my work. Let’s get right into it.

Backwards Design: A method of curriculum and lesson design where the teacher thinks of the end goals of the lesson first, then creates the curriculum and activities around those goals. Also known as “UBD” (see below).

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A means of classifying different thinking skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy is often shown as a pyramid, with more simple thinking skills (like memorizing) at the bottom, and more complex ones (like evaluating or creating) at the top.

CBL: “Content-based Learning.” Teaching a subject like science, social studies, etc., in a foreign language.

CLIL: “Content and Language Integrated Learning.” A method of curriculum design that involves using 2 or more subjects, plus a foreign language, when designing a lesson or course. It was designed as an upgrade to CBL (see above). 

Critical Thinking: The act of engaging in higher-order thinking skills (see “Bloom’s Taxonomy” above) in order to come up with creative solutions to problems, or evaluate information.

CCQs/ICQs: 

  • CCQs: “Content-checking questions.”  Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they understood the information they just learned. Example: A teacher finishes teaching the class about the climate of Paraguay, then asks, “Does it snow a lot in Paraguay?” 
  • ICQs: “Instruction-checking questions.” Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do. Example: A teacher tells students to bring their worksheets to him/her when they’re finished. After giving them this instruction, the teacher asks the class, “Should you bring your worksheets to me or keep them?” 

Decoding/encoding: 

  • Decoding: figuring out meaning from text or sound, i.e., reading and listening.
  • Encoding: creating one’s own words to convey meaning, i.e., writing or speaking.

Differentiation: Creating various versions of lesson materials to be usable by various levels of students. For example, when writing a speech, a low-level student might be given a fill-in-the-blanks template, while higher-level students might be encouraged to write it from scratch.

Essential Questions (EQs): Thought-provoking questions (often with no right or wrong answer) that guide lesson/curriculum development. They encapsulate what the teacher wants students to be able to answer at the end of the lesson. Created to be used with the UBD teaching framework (see below), but also used elsewhere.

Flipped Classroom: A method of teaching where the students learn the background information of the class at home (through a video, etc.) in order to prepare them for activities in a following class. This is opposed to a typical classroom, where students learn the material in class, then do homework at home.

GCE: “Global Citizenship Education.” A teaching philosophy promoted by UNESCO, which aims to make students better global citizens by teaching about diversity, conflict resolution, and more.

Kinesthetic Learning: A means of learning that involves the student handling and manipulating objects, e.g., moving magnetic letters to spell a word.

L1/L2: L1 is a person’s native language, L2 is the language they study. For example, a Korean citizen’s L1 is Korean, with their L2  English (or Chinese, or whatever else they’re studying.)

Lexile Level: A measure of how difficult something is to read, especially in regards to a student’s grade.

Metacognitive Thinking: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Typically seen in adult students when evaluating the effectiveness of their study methods and courses.

Project-based Assessment (PBA): A means of “testing” students by grading projects as opposed to a written test. 

*Note, PBA is different from PBL (below). While they are often used together, they are not necessarily done so. An analogy is to think of the martial of Kendo, and a sword. Kendo is the system, the sword is the tool. And while a sword is used in Kendo, it can be used in other styles (like Kung-fu) as well.

Project-based Learning (PBL):  A teaching method where students produce projects as a means of learning.

Realia: Objects from the culture of the language being studied. Examples: newspapers, souvenirs, snacks, etc.

Scaffolding: A very general term that essentially means building on what the students already know in order to teach them more. This description basically encompasses all teaching. Often in an ESL/EFL context, however, scaffolding refers to using templates or frames to guide students’ English. Below are two examples of a question that might appear on a worksheet, one scaffolded and one not.

  • Scaffolding: What is your name? My name is _______.
  • No scaffolding: What is your name? _______________.

Segmenting/blending: Phonics skills.

  • Segmenting: separating a word into constituent phonics. 
  • Blending: putting phonemes together to sound out a word.

Sight Words: In basic reading/phonics, words that are memorized, as opposed to being phonetically blended.

Station Learning/Station Rotation: A method of teaching that involves the teacher setting up different “stations” around the classroom, with a different activity (watching a video, doing a worksheet, group work, etc.) at each one. After a certain amount of time, students move to a different station.

Task-based Learning: Teaching students English by having them simulate real-world tasks. Examples of task-based learning are having students do a customer/clerk role play, having them follow directions on a map, etc.

TPR: “Total physical response.” A method of teaching that involves students both saying words and performing an action, e.g., saying “eat” as they pantomime eating. 

UBD: “Understanding by Design.” A form of curriculum design that our instructor, Autumn, wrote a whole post about – you can read it here.

Zone of Proximal Development: Regarding books and literature, the zone of proximal development is an ideal difficulty level that is neither too difficult nor too easy for the student, but rather just difficult enough to foster reading improvement. 


That’s all for now! While this is by no means a complete list, it should be enough to get you ready for that next teaching interview, or to save you some embarrassment of asking “What’s that mean?” the next time you go to a teaching conference. Are there any other terms I forgot that you’d like to add? Or did I make a mistake about something, and you want to tell me that I’m only slightly smarter than a chrysanthemum? Write it in the comments below!

Critical Multicultural Education: an overview

What is Multicultural Education

According to the leading Multicultural Education expert, James Banks (2021), Multicultural Education is  “an idea or concept, an educational reform movement, and a process” (pp.44) in which schools and teachers are tasked with creating opportunities for all students to learn and succeed in and out of the classroom. He goes on to explain that there are five dimensions to modern Multicultural Education;

What is the difference between Critical Multicultural Education and Multicultural Education?

Traditional Multicultural Education has long celebrated diversity and helped students to become aware of diversity in the classroom to promote student success and social empowerment. Critical Multicultural Education takes a step further to promote prejudice and privilege education, curriculum integration, identity formation, and opportunities for authentic partnerships and experiences.

Teachers and Critical Multicultural Education

Teacher identity and teacher reflection are an important part of Critical Multicultural Education

A teacher who engages with Critical Multicultural Education:

  • Recognizes students’ cultural knowledge, values, and ways of being as strengths
  • Is aware of their own privilege and bias
  • Has an open mindset and is constantly looking for ways in which to highlight alternative point-of-views outside of the dominant Korea-centric or West-centric worldview
  • Is sensitive to issues and topics that might be uncomfortable for students from more diverse backgrounds
  • Is knowledgeable about the unique cultural background of their students and works to understand the various diverse cultures that might be represented in the classroom

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

The pedagogical framework often cited alongside Critical Multicultural Education is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy acknowledges and engages diverse learning and their experiences, cultural backgrounds, and communities.

In South Korea, this means that “teachers are integrating the cultures and identities of immigrant students, multicultural students, and North Korean refugee students into their instruction.” (Kim, 2020, pp. 88)

A culturally responsive teacher:

  1. Learns about students’ previous experiences and cultural background
  2. Uses this knowledge in the curriculum and in the building of a caring and diverse classroom that also challenges students to success
  3. Empowers students, especially ethnically diverse students, through academic success and cultural connections in the classroom via content and classroom culture

In essence, Multicultural Education should NOT be taught in a textbook only, but instead developed by each educator based on a particular student group. Teachers should encourage students to be proud of their heritage, create assignments that celebrate diverse backgrounds, incorporate Multicultural Education Approaches into their curriculum whenever possible and work towards being an introspective teacher who examines their own values, beliefs, and biases.

As Howard (2021) states,

“The mere understanding of culture cannot translate to effective teaching strategies”

(pp. 145)

Challenges in Critical Multicultural Education

Be careful to avoid…

Cultural Stereotyping

Making general assumptions or generalizations about a cultural group.

  • Example: “All American eat hamburgers”

Educators who seek to create cultural connections can do more damage than assistance.

  • Example: “You like hamburgers? So do Americans! All Americans eat hamburgers!”

“Single Story”

This is when only one “story” of a people group is portrayed, forgetting that most cultures have many sides and stories to tell. This is how stereotypes and prejudice start at the early stages of life, and get reinforced as students go through school.

  • Example: Showing students videos from YouTube about the poor students in Nigeria and how they cannot go to school easily. Without showing the major cities like Lagos where there are globally-accredited Universities and institutions like the Google AI research center.

Language

Language is powerful, and it can be a way in which students and teachers ostracize multicultural students, consciously or unconsciously. Avoid referring to students as ‘Other’ or ‘Foreign’, because this only reinforces the “Us versus Them” mentality. In Korea, students who are dubbed “multicultural” are often pushed to the outside of society as the non-Korean ‘Other’.

  • Example: In some schools, teachers were seen calling on multicultural students using derogatory words (J.H. Kim, 2018), ‘damhwa’, or even just the students’ home country (I.e “China” or “Vietnam”) (Park & Park, 2018)

Citations

Banks, J. A. (2021). Multicultural Education: History and Dimensions. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy and Practice (pp. 42–52). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Howard, T. C. (2021). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy & Practice (pp. 137–163). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Kim, H. A. (2020). Understanding “koreanness”: racial stratification and colorism in Korea and implications for Korean Multicultural Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 22(1), 76–97. https://doi.org/10.18251/ijme.v22i1.1834

Kim,  J.  H.  (2018,  July  29).  “Ya  damunhwa”…Damimsaemeun  nae  chingureul iruhkae  bulluyo [Hey,  damunhwa…my  homeroom  teacher  calls  my  friend this]. Seoul    Shinmun.    Retrieved    from http://www.seoul.co.kr/news/newsView.php?id=20180730013001&wlog_tag3=naver

Park,  S.  E.,  &  Park,  H.  Y.  (2018,  March  5). Umma, seonsengnimi  nareul ‘damunhwa’ra bulreuyo [Mom, the teacher calls me ‘damunhwa’]. Yonhap News. Retrieved from https://www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20180305102400797?input=1195m

Using Gamification in the EFL Environment

Outside of the learning environment, gamification is nothing new. Industries and businesses have been using this strategy to incorporate gaming aspects into their businesses for several years with varying degrees of success.

More recently, language learning environments have been tentatively incorporating gamification into their classes, and this trend is increasing yearly.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of aspects of gaming and game design techniques in traditionally non-gaming environments, such as finance, marketing, and education.

Why Use Gamification?

Gaming is a popular global pasttime that makes a lot of people happy, transcends age, gender, nationality and language. It also encourages motivation, has easily achievable “goals” and promotes a relaxed environment. All of which are seen by educators as desirable qualities in the classroom.

How to Use Gamification in an Educational Environment

‘But we’ve been using games in the classroom for years. This is nothing new,’ some educators may proclaim.

And indeed this is the case. But it’s important to preface at this point that gamification is not the use of games, it’s the use of gaming techniques and aspects of gaming. 

So how can you use Gamification to enhance your class?

Gamification, as mentioned before, has clear goals, measurable progress, and just as important, requires participation. As any experienced teacher in Korea can attest to, getting students to participate in activities can be a labor of misery, especially as many Korean students don’t like to make mistakes in front of their peers, and so avoiding the activity entirely seems a better choice than trying and failing.

So with a combination of gamification techniques such as badges, leveling up, quest-lines, you not only encourage students to participate in activities, you also create a social element as they can join a group, compete against friends and experience both teamwork and solo.

With the development of technology used in EFL classrooms, gamification can naturally evolve alongside the technology. There are numerous examples of educational gamification being entirely technology-based; Duolingo being a prime example. While the EFL instructor can take advantage of wide-ranging technology advancements, gamification isn’t all about the technology.

If the teacher finds themselves in a technology-barren space, gamification techniques can still be applied. Paper-based points systems, achievement stamps for younger students, all work well in the classroom without the use of technology.

Conclusions

Gamification is a widely used and versatile technique that can enhance any classroom environment. The core components of participation and achievable goals make it a must for any classroom, and the overall style can be adapted for any age group or ability level.  

Teacher Tech: Making Your Own Video Subtitles

There’s some debate about whether it’s worthwhile to add subtitles to video clips that are shown in class. While that’s a good topic for another day, there likely will be times when, for whatever reason, you’ll want students to have subtitles to read as they watch a video. But what if you’re unable to find subtitles? Well, it’s actually possible to add your own. This article will show you one way to do this, and it doesn’t require any money, subscriptions, or tears on your behalf. Well, maybe a few tears, but at least it won’t cost you money.

First, the bad news. Adding subtitles isn’t as easy as it used to be … or, at least last time I checked. Years ago Windows had a free app known as Windows Movie Maker that allowed users to effortlessly add subtitles to their videos; however, this program was discontinued and every other method of adding subtitles now requires a bit more work: enough work such that fully subtitling a feature-length movie is probably out of the question. The good news is that, while a bit time consuming, it’s not terribly hard, and once you get the hang of it, you can subtitle a short video in under an hour.

Before We Start:

Before we learn how to add subtitles, it might worth talking about why you might need to use them in the first place. I’ve found adding subtitles can be useful when:

A. The English is too fast for students to understand, or uses unfamiliar pronunciation,

B. You want students to focus on the video’s overall meaning, rather than interpreting the English,

C. The English is too difficult, in which case a “simple English” (or even Korean!) translation can be
provided through the subtitles.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s learn how to do it.

Step 1: Download Shotcut

Yes, I know: I hate installing random programs, too. But Shotcut is, in my experience, one of the better free movie-editing apps out there. I’ve experimented with quite a few and, while Shotcut isn’t always intuitive and takes a bit of practice to figure out, it tends to have the best usability-to-hassle ratio among other free programs out there.

Here’s the link where you can download the program: https://www.shotcut.org/download/

Step 2: Select Your Video File

Easy enough: Simply open Shotcut, then drag and drop the file to which you want to add subtitles:

Your video will now appear in Shotcut.

Step 3: Add your Video to the Timeline

You’ll notice a big blank spot at the bottom of the Shotcut interface. Drag and drop the video window down to that area …

… and this will happen:

Step 4: Split the Video

Now’s the hard part. You’ll need to split the video at any point you want to add subtitles. To do this, first click anywhere above or below the blue timeline. DON’T click on the timeline itself. Once you do this, a white vertical line will appear where you clicked.

The white line is the cursor. You can drag it wherever you want on the video. NOTE: pressing the spacebar will cause the video to begin playing at the cursor, and pressing the spacebar again will cause everything to pause.

If you press S or the ][ symbol on Shotcut’s interface, this will happen:

You’ve now split the video at this location. As with a word document, you can press Ctrl+Z to undo it if you’ve made a mistake.

Find a place where you want to add a subtitle, and split the video at the beginning and end of the part where you want the subtitle to show, like this:

If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice two black bars sectioning off a portion of the video. This will be the frame where your subtitles will go.

Step 5: Add the Subtitles

Now, click on the frame where you want to put the subtitle. You can click directly on the blue timeline this time. The frame will be highlighted in red.

Now, go to the menu at the top of Shotcut, and select “Filters.”

Next, hit the + button below the window in the upper left.

A menu will pop up. Type “text” in the search bar. Then you can choose from either “simple” or “rich.” So as to not get too confusing, we’ll go with simple text for now, but if you have time, you can experiment with rich text later.

Now type your subtitle!

NOTE: If your subtitle isn’t appearing in the video window, it’s probably because your cursor is at a different point on the timeline. Move the cursor to the current frame, and your subtitle should show up.

You can adjust the position of the subtitle by dragging the little gray ball in the center of the video window.

In the event you totally mess up, the subtitles can be removed by clicking the – button next to the + button you clicked earlier.

Here’s the good news: You’ve now added your subtitle. The bad news? Now you have to do that EVERY TIME you want to add more subtitles. Unfortunately, without advanced knowledge of subtitle-creation software, this is probably your best option.

Step 6: Save the File

If you just save from the menu, it will save everything as a Shotcut project, but not as an actual video. In order to change everything to a video, you must convert it. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.

Simply click on “File” on the far upper-left, then select “Export Video” from the drop-down menu. Finally click “Export File,” shown here:

It will take a little while to convert the file. You can see the progress in the window on the right. When there’s a green checkmark, your video has been exported and saved.

Good job!

You’ve succeeded in adding subtitles to your video!

Sources:

The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGXRSfdObag&ab_channel=EricaPrettyEagle.

Tips for Selecting Appropriate Videos for the Classroom

Picture this: you’re back in school, ready for another boring day of learning. You’ve got out your textbook and corresponding notebook, and have just set your pencils at the top of the desk when suddenly the teacher rolls in an antique relic of a TV player and a VCR. The mood in the class suddenly lifts – it’s a movie day!

Videos can be a great way to pique student interest, add other authentic voices to the classroom, create engagement, and a lot more. They can also be a great “treat” for students, but it’s not always appropriate to rely on videos rather than have a more active, student-centered classroom. In this post, we’ll go over ways that you can incorporate media into the classroom.

Consider Video Usage

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

When considering a video, think about why you want to use it. Will it add something to your class, or is it just an interesting time filler? Of course, the latter is fine in some circumstances, but if you truly want students to learn, it might be best to watch the video yourself and come up with a lesson or activity from it. 

When planning to use a video in your class, consider this: if parents, a principal, or other educator were in the room with you, would you still play it? If the answer is “no,” then strongly reconsider using it.

Preview the Video

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

This may seem like common sense, but when considering showing a video or videoclip to students, you should always watch it in advance. Nothing is worse than frantically trying to stop or block a video that takes a sudden inappropriate turn, and the fallout from showing inappropriate material – even accidentally – can be severe. You’ll also want to make sure that the video is appropriate for your students’ ages, English levels, and interests. If you don’t have a ton of time, consider playing the video at 2x speed when previewing. You’ll still be able to understand it, and you’ll get through it twice as fast. 

Use Subtitles

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I have a confession: I always watch movies and television shows with subtitles, even when the media is originally in my native language. I get distracted by what’s going on in the background, my phone, and of course, listening becomes an impossibility the minute I decide to eat some chips.

In the classroom, students likely have similar distractions, or have other reasons they need subtitles. Subtitles can vastly improve comprehension. Depending on what your goal is with the video, consider using subtitles – or if you can show the video more than once, try using subtitles for at least one of the views. 

Think About Video Length

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

If you’re teaching a forty minute class, it’s probably not in the best interest to use a full twenty minute episode of something. When playing a video, its presence in the classroom needs to be justified with your teaching practice. Do you really need to play the full time, or can the actual content you want to use be made shorter? We can circle back to the parents or principal rule: if you would cut the video down if they were there, do it for your students.

Pick Appropriate Clips or Pieces From the Video

Photo by Loc Dang on Pexels.com

I once met an instructor who, instead of teaching a class, would simply play entire Ted Talk videos as a substitute for actually teaching.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using Ted Talks to supplement your class, but videos definitely should be used alongside teaching, rather than replace it!

As discussed earlier, it isn’t always the best choice to simply play a full video in class. Instead, you can glean pieces of clips that are relevant to your classroom. This will make sure that the video content is concise, and give you more time for teaching and going over content in class. If you do want to use material from a video in class, or you think that what they’re saying is good, you can watch the video, learn it yourself, and then cite what they are saying in a shorter way. This will make your class go more smoothly, and ensure you can maintain a better balance.

____________________________________________________________________________

These are just a few things to keep in mind when selecting a video to use in your classroom. As ever, use your own judgement – it’s likely that you know your students and what is appropriate to use for them in the classroom.

Soft Skills in the Secondary ESL Classroom

Listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar . . . these are all skills that every secondary-education English teacher tries to improve in their students. However, being a teacher is more than just teaching the skills involved in a subject; it’s also about equipping students with the life skills they need to be successful members of society. Unfortunately, there are seldom any classes that teach these skills, but the good news is that we, as teachers, can incorporate them into our everyday lessons. In today’s blog post, we’ll look at some auxiliary skills—or soft skills— that high-school and middle-school teachers can subtly incorporate into the flow of their usual classes.

A quick note before we begin: this article is intended to simply bring awareness to the need for these skills. Readers might find themselves wondering just, how, exactly, to effectively teach them to their students. While this article will give a few tips, each one is a topic in its own, about which an entire book could easily be written! Fortunately, GIFLE often holds training related to these topics and more, so we encourage readers to keeping checking this blog for further teaching tips and advice – or better yet, enroll in some of our trainings!

Note-Taking Skills

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In my previous job, I was tasked with helping students deliver a speech for a school competition. To this end, I gave them a variety of words that I thought would be helpful in accomplishing their goal. “If I were you,” I’d say, looking over the rims of my glasses to drive the subtle hint across, “I’d use these words in your speech to maybe get a few extra points on your final score.” Then I watched as the students, instead of writing the words down, continued to stare straight ahead, slack jawed. During the students’ final presentations, probably one student among the whole sophomore class used any of the words I taught them (and that student got a pretty high score, incidentally).

Later, when test time drew near, I was tasked with overseeing student self-study sessions. It was during this time I noticed something curious: not one student studied from a notebook. Studying was done either by pouring over highlighted textbooks or grinding through multiple-choice problems in their practice books. It hit me then: my students didn’t know how to take notes. Or, if they did, they weren’t convinced of the skill’s usefulness.

Taking notes is such an important habit for students to have. As a former language student, myself — having logged in over 3,000 classroom hours studying Modern Standard Arabic — I can tell you that there are so many grammar points, words, and tips that might be helpful to one student, but not to another, and test-practice books alone cannot account for these. Students need to be encouraged to actively listen and be ready to take (and later review) notes in order to tailor their study to their particular needs.

What’s more, this is a skill that is not only useful for English, but for any skill. For example, anyone who’s studied taekwondo, for instance, can likely recall a time they were taught a technique, only to attend class the following week to find themselves asking, “wait, how did that move go?” Similarly, anyone with a busy schedule knows they need to write their meetings and appointments in some kind of planner, or they’re bound to forget an important event. Whether it’s English, taekwondo, or business, note taking is a skill teachers need to encourage in their students.

How does one teach that skill? Well, that can be a complex topic best covered in another post, but a good place to start can be to make sure your students come to every class with a notebook and pencil. When you teach a point that you think is particularly important or useful, tell them to write it down!

Personal Accountability for Assignments

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I used to teach a lesson about riddles. Students would spend one class period thinking, in a team, of abstruse clues regarding an object of their choice. They would write these clues down, then present them in the following period in a sort of class competition. Sometimes students would lose the papers on which their riddles were written. My solution? Tell them “tough luck.”

I’ve noticed this with other activities as well. Any time I’ve had a class that required students to bring in a paper (or other item) a following class session, several (or sometimes many) forgot. This shows a real lack of organization and responsibility in high school students . . . which is to be expected in teenagers, of course! However, that’s why we need to teach them responsibility now, so that today’s high school students don’t end up becoming tomorrow’s businesspeople who forget to bring important documents to meetings, or paramedics who forgets to bring important pieces of life saving equipment to emergencies.

To this end, I encourage teachers to resist the temptation to manage students’ materials. Often, teachers prefer to collect ongoing assignments (book reports, projects, etc.) and return them for students to work on in subsequent classes, since this insures students will be able to use class time productively (or, in the case of written assignments, that they don’t have their friends do the work for them). However, this doesn’t build habits of responsibility. Instead, it makes students think that, even if they forget something important, there will always be someone to cover for them.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about this, but when a student shows up in class with nothing to do, it’s much harder to enforce it in reality. Therefore, it’s good to have a backup plan for forgetful students. For example, if a student forgets a report they’re working on, have them try to their best to continue it in class, then later re-write it on the original paper. At the same time, don’t be afraid of awkward moments. If a team forgets presentation material? Well, then they have to try it from memory, and if it doesn’t go well, let it be a lesson for how the real world works.

Confidence and Risk Taking

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The famous American baseball player Babe Ruth once said that we miss 100 percent of the shots we don’t take. Well, Korean students often use the opposite idea: We never give a wrong answer if we never participate. This is an unfortunate philosophy by which to live life. While there’s something to be said for the “better safe than sorry” outlook on life (ask anyone who’s been injured in a fireworks accident), it also means they miss out on a lot of potential life opportunities, and in class this will mean that students, out of fear of appearing foolish to their classmates, seldom volunteer.

But how does a teacher help inspire confidence in students? Unfortunately there’s no easy answer for this; (GIFLE’s Level One teacher training last month centered around this very issue, in fact!) but a good place to start is to try to create a classroom environment that allows mistakes. I often tell students that shy people seldom make history, and that sometimes being successful means doing things wrong once in a while. If a student’s answer is wrong, I might take a moment to explain why the answer might have seemed right to them when giving corrections. For example, if a student makes a pronunciation mistake, I’ll tell them “yes, a ‘p’ usually makes that sound, but when paired with an ‘h,’ the sound changes to that of an ‘f,’” instead of simply telling them “no, that’s wrong.”

Of course, this isn’t to say you have tell every student every time that every effort is a good effort. Sometimes they need to be told to get their heads out of the clouds and focus! That’s our next topic.

Attention to Detail

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Many ESL teachers will tell you not to focus too much on minor grammatical mistakes, as fear of making mistakes discourages students from speaking or writing their own English (see above). There is a lot of truth to this: if a student has to pause every time to consider if they need a definite or indefinite article before a noun, it can really slow down the speaking process.  However, there are also times when students should be made to consider some of the finer details of their English. This is because students often have a habit of being hasty and overlooking certain small, but important points. For example, in their writing, they might forget to capitalize their names, or place a period at the end of a sentence. What’s more, they seldom take time to proofread any pieces of English writing they submit to the teacher. These instances and more provide opportunities to teach students to put effort into the quality of their work.

This is an important life lesson for students. Again, bad habits in school can lead to bad habits as an adult. A student who doesn’t take time to check to see if the first word in every sentence is capitalized might later become a doctor who forgets to check if his patient is allergic to any medications, or an accountant who doesn’t take time to check her math.

So when it comes to certain, basic, English concepts, don’t be afraid to make sure your students are paying attention to the little things once in a while.

Wait! What About …

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Critical thinking? Citizenship skills? The ability to draw a realistic-looking cat? Yes, all of these and more are valuable soft skills for students to have, and there are many more you might be able to think of, as well. The above items are just four examples to consider when teaching your students. Remember, our job isn’t just to create English speakers, but future leaders, as well.

Teaching a Mixed Level Classroom: A Practical Guide on Assessments

In an ESL classroom, it’s pretty common to have students of all levels. This can make it difficult for both the educator and the students. Lower-level students often feel demotivated in a classroom where the assignments are too difficult. It’s understandable – if the material is so far out of reach for them that they can’t complete it, then why should they bother? In a similar way, advanced students might feel bored if the assignment is way below their level. They’ll disengage from what we’re trying to teach, which is never what we want to foster in a classroom environment.

So, how do we engage students of all different English abilities?

Differentiation – that is, creating different assignments in order to make them appropriate to different students’ English levels- is a great way to even out the playing field and make a more equitable classroom where every student has the chance to learn, grow, and maybe even earn an A. In this post, we’ll go over the steps to begin creating differentiated assignments in your classroom.

Step 1: Know Your Student’s Levels

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It’s likely you at least have some idea how well your students speak English. In my classroom, I normally categorize students using WIDA standards, but if you’re unfamiliar with this it can look intimidating or tricky. Instead, you can try categorizing your students into low, intermediate, and high proficiency. 

When thinking about students in this way, you’ll want to judge your students by class standards. So, “intermediate” should be the level where the majority of your class is. The outliers who are better would be your “advanced” students, while the ones trailing behind are your “low” levels. 

Of course, we get classes who skew towards advanced and ones who need much more basic instruction in English. So long as you generally know where your students lie, you should be able to create assignments that are accessible to everyone. 

Step 2: Write Your (Differentiated!) Objectives 

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By the end of your lesson, you want your students to have learned or accomplished something. However, what that “something” is can vary wildly depending on your student. At times, I’ve been thrilled if my low-level students can pick up just a few vocabulary words, but this would obviously be a ridiculous objective for some of my students who are at or near full fluency. Instead, I might want them to be able to write a full, five paragraph essay by the end of the lesson. It’s important to keep this in mind when writing objectives. 

For example, check out these differentiated objectives I created for three different levels of students, in a class about American culture. 

Low Level:

  • Student can use vocabulary terms in scaffolded sentences
  • Student can discuss about appearance using scaffolded sentences and visual aids
  • Student can write about appearance with appropriate accommodations 

Intermediate Level:

  • Student can use vocabulary in short sentences
  • Student can discuss about appearance with peers and ask some questions. They may be allowed to use some supports such as sentence prompts
  • Student can write about appearance with appropriate accommodations 

Advanced Level: 

  • Students can use vocabulary terms correctly in a full, complex sentence or paragraph
  • Student can fully discuss what they’ve learned about appearance with peers; ask questions; and show general mastery of the language surrounding the curriculum
  • Student can freely write about appearance

In these three different levels of objectives, you can see I want them to all vaguely do the same thing: they should know and be able to use vocabulary, be able to discuss about appearance, and complete a writing assessment. What varies between these objectives is the level of support that students get. Keep in mind that students can normally generally complete the same thing; the only thing that should change is scaffolding and other supports. 

Step 3: Choose an Assessment

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As educators, we have a myriad of assessments available to us, ranging from jigsaws to performance assessments such as doing a presentation. In the objectives above, the assessment is for students to be able to write about appearance. As mentioned, students can almost always do the same assessment; all that needs to change is the level of support or scaffolding students might get for each assignment. This step is therefore pretty straightforward: you can just pick an assessment like you would in any normal class!

Step 4: Differentiating the Assessment

Just as objectives should be differentiated to spell out what different levels of students should be able to accomplish by the end of the lesson, assessments should also be differentiated to let students be able to actually accomplish the objectives. 

So, let’s look at a practical example, based off of our earlier objectives.

In this writing assignment, students need to describe the woman pictured below. However, as you flip through the slideshow, you can notice that low-level students need to complete a cloze activity where they simply fill in the blanks (with help of a wordbank), intermediate students are expected to write sentences, and high-level students are expected to be able to compose paragraphs.

Wrapping Up

Now that your have differentiated objectives and assessments, you of course have to give them to the students! If I’m in a physical classroom, I simply like to have three different baskets at the back with the different assessments in them. I tell the students to choose one and only turn one in. If I’m online, I upload the three versions to an LMS and again tell students to only complete and turn in one.

Ever since I started differentiating my assessments to be appropriate to student levels, I’ve noticed that there’s much higher participation overall in my classroom. Students are much more likely to complete their work if it’s accessible or interesting for them to do. Higher engagement makes my job much easier – definitely worth the small time price it takes to create differentiated assignments.

Zoom Teaching Tips: How to Present Information Better

Online teaching has become a necessary part of school life during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. If we were to break it down, there are three models of online teaching that are viable in most cases: the synchronous model, the asynchronous model, and blended.

In the first method – the synchronous model – teachers and students use Zoom or Google Meet to teach students face-to-face and in real time via a computer. The second way of online teaching, the asynchronous model, has the teacher provide educational materials in a Google Classroom and lets students view the materials on their own time. The students then studies the material, completes the assignments and uploads them on Google Classroom or another LMS. The final model is blend between synchronous and asynchronous model where Google Classroom is used along with online classes with Zoom or Google Meet.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to discuss some tips that you can use in all three of these models for classroom success.

Zoom Tips for Classroom Success

Here at GIFLE, we have been mostly using Zoom to do synchronous online training programs and classes, namely our school visit program and the English Conversation Program. As a coordinator observing, managing, administrating and teaching these programs, the following are a few observations I had about doing classes through Zoom. However, as mentioned, these tips can also prove useful for those doing asynchronous or blended methods as well.

Bigger Text, Readable Fonts, Clear Pictures

The above PowerPoint slide was used in a class that I taught about US Culture. When making the slide, I thought all the text and pictures would be visible to the students.

That was not the case, and trying to use fonts that were too small interrupted my entire lesson.

When teaching in in-person class, this slide might be visible because you have a big projector screen or big screen TV. The small fonts and numbers might look fine to you when you’re making it, but on a Zoom shared screen, these are no longer visible. When making teaching material, teachers need to be aware of their presentations from a student’s perspective. Visual presentations need to be visible, clear and readable. Without these things, students will no longer be focusing on the lesson. Instead, they will be attempting to comprehend the visual content. Time spent on figuring out the pictures or text on a PowerPoint slide is time spent away from learning necessary content.

It Takes Longer to Do Things Online

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When we teach in in-person classes, there is freedom of movement. You give instructions on an activity, you can teach some and then you can quickly move onto another task. Done.

However, with Zoom online classes, each action requires time expended. If you want to put students in breakout rooms, you need to press the breakout room button, make the breakout rooms, and provide instructions on getting into the breakout room and what to do once students are in there. Once they are done, you have to close all breakout rooms and wait until everyone leaves. Then you can continue on with your class. All these steps are done just to use the breakout room function.

Another example would be doing an interactive activity using non-Zoom software like Google Slides or Jamboard. With these, there is an added step of explaining the software and what to do with the software. All time spent on explaining and using different software and function is usually longer than expected. Some students can understand the technology quicker than others. To figure things out will take some time. So when planning for activities or tasks in lessons, account for more time spent moving from one thing to another.

Need to be Animated on the Screen

The above picture is a screen shot of a Zoom class where I shared my PowerPoint presentation. This is a common occurrence in most Zoom classes; the PPT takes up most of the screen, and you yourself are a mere tiny box. If a teacher does not move and/or has a monotonous voice while teaching, it can be difficult for the students to stay focused and interested. There has to be some movement in order to them focus on what is taught on the screen. A tip is that even if you are explaining or lecturing on Zoom, you have to be animated.

How? When explaining or giving instructions, use gestures instead of just using your voice. If you are counting down, then use to hand to count the seconds. If you are providing instructions, use hand motions to show what you want students to do. If you want them to read a passage, use your hands to show that they need to read something. If you want them to write something, use your hands to show that they need to write something down. These visual cues are important so that the students have something else to rely on aside from only your voice.

It might sound silly, but your facial expression cannot be the same. The only visual cues that the students have, aside from the shared screen, is your face. If your face stays the same without any change, the students can possibly lose interest in your class. If the students did a good job, provide positive feedback by offering words of encouragement and smiling and clapping. If you need the students to be serious, then your face needs to show that you are serious. When teachers are in the classroom, the students are able to see all of you. They can see your facial expression and body language. Since via Zoom, they cannot take visual cues from body language, teachers need to make more of an effort to use facial expressions to show what they mean to students.

Lag with Annotations and Shared Audio/Videos

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Using the annotation function on Zoom and sharing videos are great ways to teach classes and mimic the way that classes are taught in person. The main caveat here is the timing of using the annotation function and sharing of videos. During my observations of GIFLE Zoom classes, I have noticed that the teachers would teach to what they see on the computer monitor. The problem comes from the students side. Just because a teacher wrote something on the screen at a certain moment doesn’t mean that the students saw that. There is a lag between when a teacher writes or draws and when the students see it. Teachers need to be cognizant of this fact when they are explaining something that requires lots of notes or drawings. Pausing and then continuing with the teaching is necessary when writing or drawing something in an online class. Students will be less confused with the lesson if the timing of the teaching and annotation is in sync. Teachers should write first, pause, and continue. This timing needs to be internalized when you are teaching using the annotation function.

The same concept applies to sharing audio or videos. When a teacher presses play on a video, that doesn’t mean the students see it immediately. There is a lag between the teacher’s computer and student’s computer. So when teaching by annotating on a word document or digital whiteboard and sharing audio or video files, teachers need to know that they need to wait a while before continuing onto the next part of the lesson.

Conclusion

When teaching on Zoom, things aren’t always as straightforward as they might be in an in-person class. There are all sorts of small things the teacher needs to keep in mind to have a successful class. However, if you follow the few tips that were presented here, we think that you can improve your online teaching and be well on your way to Zoom success.