The CEFR event: discussions (3 of 4)

I’ve debated with myself for quite a while: shall I just give you a brief digest (one slide, three bullet points)? But since this is a blog, I’ve finally decided to group the comments into categories and share them as they are. The discussions were incredibly fun,  and the pictures don’t show all the excitement. So, these comments may give you a better idea of how it all happened.photo_2020-02-08_01-19-56photo_2020-02-08_01-19-48

Important caveat: I was taking notes very quickly, and I took down the names of just a few speakers. Consider this just a blurry snapshot!

Understanding CEFR

CEFR is not a rating scale, it should inform curriculum development, task design and only then follows assessment. (Brian North)
Not everything can be pinned down or scaled; we should not forget about the big picture. For example, while mediation is generally useful, mediating too early can be annoying.

Plurilingualism in the new CEFR was brought about by globalisation, and it’s globalisation that caused the same shift in education, not CEFR.
Overall, CEFR and CV is synergised with the values of the European Council.

If we need to understand the difference between action-oriented and task-oriented approaches, the action-oriented approach in CEFR gives the power to the learner. It’s about learner agency and empowerment

Implementing CEFR

CEFR is meant to be adapted.
There can be a stronger and weaker form of implementing CEFR.
There is tension between localisation and commonality. The way to align them is to use the top overview level. (Elaine)
It’s not the experts who should be simplifying the framework, but the local experts.
Can CEFR be used in Tunisia? Adopt it or adapt it (question asked by Dave Allan, Nile)

We need to learn how to speak to policy makers
LESS IS MORE
The COD principle (Barry Sullivan quotes): Capacity, Opportunity, Desire

How do we change public attitudes to CEFR?
There must be a continuous and on-going dialogue with parents.
We need to encourage whole-school policies.
We need to align people, not just systems.

We need more collaboration with psychologists, sociologists; between different associations.

The role of teachers

We need to start with teacher education.

Teachers have a duty to know what students are interested in and what they ought to be interested in.
Communities of practice and an online platform they have been using (Bessie)
Action research for teachers
joint SIG event with success stories (Dave Allan)

The role of materials

Why isn’t there a CEFR manual for materials writers? (Me, silently: hey, what about the core inventory?)

There’s no recycling in coursebooks, just chapters full of throwaway content (sic).
If we can’t influence publishers, let’s have language policies at unies.

Perhaps revisit the portfolio system?

Assessment

We need to develop assessment literacy

Tests are reductionist
The washback effect can be quite unpredictable
Should we be scaling at all?

Let’s grade the behaviour instead of the task

What about the learners?

Shouldn’t we ask the students?
Learners see things differently from teachers.
We need to focus more research on the learners (Chris Brandwood)

In the inclusive approach, if we use screen readers for the visually impaired, are we testing reading or listening?

A dog needs to do something 17 times before it learns to do it. A human needs a lot of repetition, too.

We need to take EQ into account (Cliff Perry)
We need to take cognitive development into account
If we have just 3 hours a week, how can we hope to take anything into account?

We can use the scenario-based approach (Armin)

Tech may be the answer.

Phew 🙂 The next and last post in the series is going to be about my own takeaways from the whole event – stay tuned!

 

 

The CEFR event: Day 2 (2 of 4)

This post continues my account of an event I’ve recently attended.

Wow, that was a really full day! Three symposia (symposiums?) with three speakers each, followed by discussions, comments and more discussions… I’ll only focus on the presentations here, and have a separate post about the discussions.

The first two talks of the first symposium (about the action-oriented approach) were packed with theoretical information. So, if you’ve been wondering if the new companion volume represents a new paradigm, if mediation is really a construct and if plurilingualism can be reliably tested, the speakers are a much better source of information than this blog. My own takeaways are literary rather than academic:
Constant Leung (King’s College London):
‘You’re opening plurilingual spaces: new dimensions, unpredictable and contingent.’

John de Jong (Language Testing Services):
‘Let’s fight hypnosis through scales and levels.’

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Mark Levy (British Council, Spain) took a less theoretical stance and told us about the introduction of CV in Spain. Did you know that there was a Royal Decree about teaching and testing mediation?


From that point onwards, more and more words were said about the role of teacher training and development. As Mark said, in times of stress, even if we have developed and changed our habits since, we tend to revert to our original teacher identity formed at the moment of training. This means that teacher education is even more important – but isn’t the responsibility a bit frightening, too?

Symposium 2 was about plurilingualism, plurilingual education and mediation (again).
Peter Lenz (Institute of Multilingualism, University of Friburg) used ESP skills assessment to demonstrate how mediation can be measured.

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Bessie Dendrinos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) gave a very comprehensive presentation about how multilingual learner corpora and other tools are used in Greece to exemplify CEFR levels.

Déirdre Kirwan (Formerly principal of Scoil Bhríde (Cailíní), Blanchardstown, Dublin).
Déirdre’s talk was perhaps the most memorable of them all: from the bird’s eye view we were transported onto beautiful school premises in the heart of Ireland. Here is a great example of how plurilingualism can work in a certain context provided all stakeholders are involved and on board. Bringing all the richness of multiple cultures into the classroom – makes me wonder if something like this can ever be achieved in our monolingual environment.

Symposium 3 was about descriptors in curriculum, classroom and assessment.
Elaine Boyd (University College London) spoke about CEFR from the position of a materials writer.

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Armin Berger told us about a project to adapt CEFR to high proficiency levels at his university in Vienna.

And Elif Kantarcıoğlu from Ankara spoke about the challenges (and improvements) the new CEFR has brought to assessment.

At some point Barry O’Sullivan, who chaired the first symposium, told us an inspiring story. ‘A single shape with a graphic and 3 bullet points’, that’s how we need to communicate with stakeholders.

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And this is what this post should have been – but I’m sitting at the airport and my higher order thinking skills are slightly impaired 🙂 To be continued!

The CEFR event: Day 1 (1 of 4)

That’s where I am this weekend: Trafalgar Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields, The CEFR: a road map for future research and development

What can 130 language teachers, assessors, professors and other experts do in a church crypt in the centre of London?

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Discuss teaching and assessing of course – and it’s not boring at all. The whole vibe reminds me of IATEFL, with lots of people who clearly love what they do and are happy to see old friends and make new ones.

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Between the coffees and conversations, we listened to several excellent talks about the CEFR (Common European Framework) scale, especially the new CV (Companion Volume).

And the real question behind it all was: how can CEFR help us in the classroom, with the curriculum and with assessment?

This little blog is awfully (and woefully) inadequate for giving you any kind of detail, but here are a few random takeaways:

1) Brian North spoke about the Companion Volume. They added YL descriptors, mediation, phonology, sign language, and made other important updates.

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Mediation (and plurilingualism) deserves its own blog post, or even series, so watch this space.

Oh, and do you know that they have got rid of ‘the ghost of the native speaker’ in the descriptors? It’s ‘proficient user’ throughout, just like in IELTS descriptors.

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Even though he repeated a few times, ‘It’s too early to tell’ when speaking about achievements, it seems that CV has helped the CEFR cause a lot. The question is, how do we let all stakeholders know about it?

2) The panel with Barry O’Sullivan, Masashi Negishi and Meg Malone, chaired by Jamie Dunlea was in fact three more presentations.


For me the biggest realisation was that CEFR is a truly international phenomenon and that it’s actually ok to adapt it to different languages and cultures (e.g. in Japan there are a lot of elementary learners, so there was a need to have a more detailed subdivision of levels)

3) David Little gave his own take on CEFR and its perspectives, related to plurilingualism, proficiency levels (yes, we’re finally talking about how diffferent they are in terms of hours needed to reach them and in terms of which contexts of use they presuppose).

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I took pictures of every slide (until my phone died), and then started scribbling with a pencil. I have to say that nothing beats a good speaker: you hang on their every word, you laugh at their jokes. (Language learning is like a relationship, it has its ups and downs. Meg Malone)

David Little: ‘Reading this is a challenge for breath control, but I’ve had practice’.

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Group discussions were quite exciting too and deserve a post of their own – to be continued!

P.S. Did you know they call the intermediate plateau ‘terminal intermediate’ in America?

Adjusting your marking practice

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Here is a great post from Teachers on Fire by Katelynn Giordano which tells a story of how the author, an experienced teacher, was reminded to adjust their principles to meet the needs of a particular student. It all happened on a parents’ day (they call it a parent-teacher conference, and as a bonus you can read about an interesting student-led format for this day): a student and the teacher had different views on marking. In short, the student wanted to see corrections in her submitted paper, and the teacher had strong beliefs about not discouraging students with a paper full of red ink. It’s great that they were able to talk and find a solution that would help the student and not discourage her.

And I’m wondering now how many times my beliefs have stood in the way of learning for this or that particular student… I just hope they will keep telling me what exactly they need!

How to write a great quiz

book-quiz

Here is a very interesting article from Moodle about best practice for test writing, not necessarily on Moodle and not just for languages. Whatever you are testing, it seems that the key is to consider how the students are going to do the test and what you can improve to get more reliable results. There’s practical advice about introducing quick low-stakes checks, using mock tests, preventing cheating – a riveting read!

Testing your creativity

cacti-creativity

If your students don’t mind personality quizzes, how about giving them this amazing test by Adobe to determine their creative type? It reminds me of Meyers-Briggs and Belbin, only it’s visually much cooler. The questions are easy enough for B1+ (better if they are adults), and the results warrant loads of fun and discussions. There’s even an article about the test was made – really great stuff for those who’d like to question the results or simply find out more. And the best thing about this test is that it brings home a very important message: we can all be creative in our own special ways, even if we don’t dance or paint.

Have you tested yourselves yet? Apparently, I’m a cactus.

Cold and learning

sparrow-cold

I was dealing with a minor cold last week, and I got reminded how much a small thing like that can affect our cognitive functions! Apparently, researchers knew it all along. They found out that the cold virus changes our brain chemistry for a while, and our reaction slows down, our learning ability goes down and we can’t even retrieve information the way we normally do. Well, I couldn’t even make myself write a paragraph of text!

So, what do you do if a student comes in for assessment and they are a bit under the weather? Perhaps it would be a good idea to let them re-write the test, or give them a slightly higher grade? Or just let them brave it?