I’ve been thinking a lot about the right balance between giving information and improving the learners’ skills in language lessons. My current view is that all stages of Bloom are very important – Captain Obvious much? 🙂 Anyway, Tom Kuhlmann at the Rapid E-Learning blog draws a distinction between the two in the context of corporate training: information-based training is ok when we simply need to inform participants about a policy but don’t need to change their behaviour. Performance-based training is different: or rather, it has to make a difference.
Tom suggests several questions to ask yourself before designing this type of training, e.g. What do you expect the learners to do after the course that they’re not doing today? or What training do they currently receive (if any)? Why hasn’t it worked? And of course, How is success going to be measured? So, lectures and non-interactive webinars and websites won’t cut it if we expect any results. It’s so simple, and yet so easy to forget.
More than a week later, I’m still under the impression of a lesson I observed: the teacher took her upper primaries on a tour of the Lascaux Cave. And she hit all the goal posts: the kids were engaged throughout, there was language learning and practice (They had to say ‘stop!’ when another painting came into view and say what it looked like’), and their knowledge of the world incidentally grew, too. All this time I’ve been trying to come up with a way to introduce a VR tour into one of my lessons. While I’m still thinking, here are a few useful links – perhaps you’ll beat me to it and share your experiences?
Mireille Yanow at OUP ELTblog writes about using virtual museum tours, especially with young learners, and gives a lot of practical advice and several tried-and-tested links.
If you like teaching Business English, here’s a wonderful article that can keep your higher-level learners busy and happy. Olga Khazan from The Atlantic writes about corporate buzzwords from a surprisingly balanced perspective (surprisingly because of the headline: ‘Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults’). In fact, even though phrases like ‘disruption‘, ‘touch base‘ and ‘growth hacking‘ can be seen as annoying, fake or pretentious, knowing how and when to use them can save you time in the workplace, help you transition from home to work (like a business suit you put on in the morning), and generally make you feel part of the in-group.
As for English language learners, the usefulness of corporate speak is even greater – you need to learn it before you can ditch it, right?
I was reading the PBS Research Digest this morning and found this account of research done by the University of California: apparently, random acts of kindness in the workplace encourage the recipients to ‘pay it forward’ and result in ten times more prosocial actions within a month. While the application of this effect in the workplace is obvious: let’s just be kinder to each other on purpose, I was wondering if the same idea could be used in the language classroom. For example, students can be assigned a random buddy that they need to help in secret, or they need to observe their ‘buddy’ more closely and write down the best language they have used in the lesson… I haven’t experimented with it myself, but it sounds very promising!
Somewhere in my stash of useful links there was this old BBC pilot of the ‘Evidence Toolkit‘ – a piece of software for helping teens learn to spot fake news. The pilot has ended, but if you scroll down the page, you will find a rather useful set of materials: three ready-made lesson plans with activities about verifying sources, interpreting images and data (for example, Lesson 3 has a fun video about ‘Numbers and the tricks they play’) and other aspects of reading the news. There’s even an interactive game from Aardman (BBC iReporter) – I haven’t used it yet, but it looks very promising. As for the age and level, the text-based activities would probably work best for higher-level older teens: after all, they were not written with EFL learners in mind; the videos and games seem more universal. Just another resource that can really save teachers some time!
P.S. If you’re looking for more materials for critical thinking, you can find a useful test if you travel this way.
I’ve been involved in professional skills training for some time, though I rarely write about it. This week, however, has brought new questions: how do you get learners on board if most of their learning experience has been either with General and Business English, or simply with the hard skills they need in their jobs? This article from Forbes might become part of the answer because it explains the urgency of developing skills for the workplace in our VUCA world, offers interesting statistics, and touches upon the problem of terminology (suggesting that soft skills should be called work/life skills). And the best thing about it is the whole idea of ongoing professional and personal development: “We’ll never be perfect human beings, especially at work/life skills. Instead, we’re works in progress, always learning, adapting and practicing as the external world changes around us”. So, if there is a difficult situation, a big change a work (looking at you, the COVID-19 pivot), we adapt and sign up for a course to adapt even more 🙂
I’m still amazed at how much online synchronous teaching has evolved in the recent months. The power of the collective mind! And here’s one more example: I’ve no idea where I got this link from, but it’s an amazing live resource if you’re looking for something new to do in your Zoom class. While the description says ‘fun’ (which always makes me a bit suspicious), you can find very sensible activities that can be modified for many lesson objectives: Draw my picture, Go, Grab and Gab, Fortunately/Unfortunately and many others.
So, thank you whoever has created the Padlet and all who have been adding to it – and I’ll go and think how I can use Splats for vocabulary training 🙂
Here is an interesting post by Jon Gustafson about the benefits and downsides of giving students choice. You can find cited general research of choice in the post (and the conclusion is that choice is not always good); there is also a section on educational research which says that limited choice actually creates more engagement. By contrast, giving children a lot of choice increases their motivation at the start, but then they spend less time and effort on what they have chosen. The author also speaks about disadvantages of giving too much choice (for example, it’s hard to give detailed feedback if every student was reading a different book; students do not necessarily make the best decisions) and gives advice on how to minimize them.
It’s all good and well to have fun in the classroom, but wouldn’t it be great if most of the fun came from the process of language learning, or even better, from the language itself? Me, I have to confess that I’m hopelessly in love with English, so I’m always on the lookout for tools that can encourage more students to join me 🙂 For instance, little excursions into etymology are quite helpful, but this article by Christopher Walker takes it to another level: you will find out how to use folk etymology in the classroom, and even download a nice set of materials to go with it. You can have your learners build their own theories about the origin of SOS or ‘hangnail’, play Call my bluff and do other kinds of fun (really fun) stuff – it’s on my to-do list of teaching now.
If you’re teaching a lesson about food, this collection of images with text is an absolutely amazing resource. You can have students pick and choose from 25 different stories of kids around the world and their weekly diets. The pictures are lovely, the descriptions are quite simple and yet have loads of interesting vocabulary. There is also a lot to discuss about different standards of living and life situations of these kids, so it could make for a lesson about global issues, poverty, inequality – or just use these texts for home reading or an introduction into a food-related project. I’m planning to use this soon!