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?

Dixit for IELTS essays

DIXIT for IELTS

Don’t you just love showing off your students’ work? I sure do, and today I have an offering from my new IELTS prep group. To help learners understand the exam format, I sometimes have them pretend they are exam writers. This time, it was the IELTS problem-solution essay, and the task was pretty self-explanatory: pick a random Dixit card, brainstorm problems it can symbolise, write a rubric using exam paper samples. Voilà! Four wonderfully creative essay tasks to be assigned for unique homework 🙂

Here is one rubric I’ve found the most useful. Can you guess which picture it goes with?  (Warning: it’s student work with a few errors and inaccuracies left intact!)

You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.

Write about the following topic:

Since time immemorial, adults have been taking care of the young generation. However, it is now widely believed that parents take too much care of their children, which causes lack of independence. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any examples from your own knowledge or experience. Write at least 250 words.

You can have a look at a few more examples here.

Read more about the uses of board games in ELT, including Dixit, at the links in this post.

Letters to future students

I finished a course last Sunday with a lovely group of teens preparing for IELTS. Sunday groups are special: they are often miserable at the start of the day (Sunday! Morning! Nooo!), so it’s an interesting challenge to make sure they learn well and have a reasonably good time doing it. For the final reflection, I asked them to write letters to the future Sunday group, and here’s what I saw:

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I think it illustrates their conflicting views on the course very well 🙂

“from now on you will have to do all the homework and work a lot. … I hope we inspired you to be a nice student of Kate’s class. P.S. She’s very great and informative”

“If you read this you are a victim of IELTS test… If you start this course from the beginning, never you hear NEVER allow yourself forget about homework.”

Now they are saying they should have done their homework!

“You should be concentrated…. Your lessons will not be tedious, I promise… Your teacher is a really proficient and friendly” “You’re very lucky person because you take part in effective course”

The ‘effective’ course taught them nothing about articles!

“Remember, you should write tedious vocabulary tests about graphs… Also, you’ll do worthwhile tests for for reading and listening but of course it will be funny because Kate is so friendly teacher”

Nice vocabulary, but where are my articles?

“The whole ritual of waking up early is actually worth the course. … Most of the times the more boring the task is, the more info and practice it gives you… Watch out for vocabulary tests, they are pretty annoying”

Ha, ha 🙂

So, my conclusions?

  1. Next time, I need to have a better mechanism for accountability, to give them extra motivation to do their homework on time and not regret it later
  2. Do more vocabulary work so that they learn a few more words apart from ‘tedious’ – and more tasks to practise articles!
  3. Continue to annoy them with tests 🙂

To get more out of it, I would also provide a bit more scaffolding for this activity. Here, for example, is a useful post by Jen Wieber with templates for younger kids that can be reworked for language learners. As it is, I had to have another reflection task to focus on the contents and tasks of the course in more depth, whereas better scaffolding might have saved the time.

And what about you, do you ever ask your students to write letters to future students? Do you give the future students the letters afterwards? I certainly will.

 

The book begins…

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Here’s a post describing a structured procedure for a reading lesson: from quick reading to reflection, there are all kinds of interesting stages that are meant to help students read authentic literature. Yes, the lesson is based on real fiction, the first pages of well-known books. What a treat!

As the author says, it could be particularly useful for Cambridge exam preparation, but I know quite a few people who think it their mission to develop a love of reading in their students (whispering: we know who we are…). So, what are you waiting for? 🙂

 

Taking sides re retrieval practice

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Here is a thought-provoking article from The Learning Scientists about different approaches to revision. Some teachers think that tests are boring, and try to hid retrieval practice behind other activities; others do not mind doing a lot of low-stakes non-threatening tests (these unassuming little checks reduce text and exam anxiety, provide regular revision and, of course, increase the sense of progress).

And which side are you on?

Testing at its best

flowerIf you feel that you are stuck in the barren land of assessment, just check out this new post from Bethany offering a very positive view of pre- and post-testing. There is little else that can demonstrate learning and capture that elusive sense of progress. She also recommends adding ‘yet’ to ‘I don’t know’ in multiple choice questions: “I don’t know yet, but I really hope to find out!” And what I particularly like about her post is its wonderful aura of positivity – do you?

Just a teeny tiny minute, only 60 seconds in it

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Check out this very comprehensive description of a classical little activity called ‘Just a minute!’. It can help you energise your students when you’re not in the mood for slow teaching. I have tried it myself, even with one-to-ones: it helps keep the focus on accuracy or target language, at the same encouraging students to speak quickly and coherently (very useful for exam preparation). You might want to complement it with the famous radio show, but I rarely get students who are proficient enough to enjoy it!