Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Top tips for classroom management

This is a summary of the first #eltchat on Wednesday 23rd October, 2013.  There were relatively few participants and the chat was slow to get started, mainly due to technical difficulties with Tweetdeck, but, nevertheless, some good ideas were shared.

Management versus leadership

The similarities and differences between these two roles is an age-old debate and @touqo wondered if it had any resonance with classroom management.  It was generally agreed that it did.  @Marisa_C said that she often asks teachers to think of the qualities of a good CEO or leader and ask what can be learned from them.  The teacher as a leader can set a good example for students, particularly for teens who like to have their 'idols'.  Good leaders brief, support, monitor, encourage, reward, listen, intervene when necessary - these are all good classroom management skills.

Is classroom management the same for different age groups?

This question was posed by @OUPELTGlobal.  Participants felt that the basic principles are the same across all age groups, but the methods of implementation need to be adapted.  @Marisa_C pointed out that young learners expect a firmer hand from the teacher, whereas older students can contribute to the rules and seek and accept choice.  @Shaunwilden argued that some adults prefer a firmer teacher.  This has certainly been my experience, especially with students who haven't been in a classroom for a number of years.

The first days of a course

The beginning of any course is the time to establish good classroom management.  Contracts between teachers and students are a good idea so that everyone knows what to expect.  It's important to give students as much input into the content of these contracts as possible.  The contract should be displayed on the classroom wall throughout the course as a reminder and as a way to reinforce good behaviour.

Goal setting is equally important so that students know what they should achieve, in every lesson and over the course as a whole.

The first ten minutes of a lesson

There was a consensus that the first ten minutes of any lesson are crucial in good classroom management.  This is the time when we set the tone and motivate our students to learn.  Personally, I try to make sure that I am in class before the students arrive.  That way, I invite them into the class and make sure they are speaking English from the moment they enter the room.  With young learners I use a 'password system' whereby students have to say a word or answer a question from the previous class as they come in.  As @OUPELTGlobal said, this all helps students to make the transition to English from their L1.  For the same reason, @cathmmadrid nearly always begins her lesson with a game which recycles vocabulary from the last lesson.

During the lesson

Seating is important, both in terms of the arrangement of the chairs and also where particular students sit.  It was agreed that students should move around as much as possible during a class.

@OUPELTGlobal suggested using a 'traffic light' system to reduce the use of L1 in class.

I gave the example of one of the best teachers I have ever worked with.  She had her classroom management during the lesson down to a series of small gestures and facial expressions.  It was a joy to watch!  She achieved this through establishing the rules at the beginning of every course and being consistent.  Students knew exactly what was expected of them and, as a result, teacher talk time concerning classroom management was minimal.  I regularly used this teacher as a role model for her colleagues and tried to role out her techniques across the whole department in order to create consistency - something which we all agreed is crucial to good classroom management.

The end of the lesson

Just as it is important to start well, it's vital to end the lesson on a high.  @touqo gave us the analogy of a rock band who start a concert with their second-best song to get the audience motivated and save their best until last to make people want to come back for more!  Students must leave the class with a real sense of what they have learned during it.

How much does good classroom management affect students' performance and results?

It was agreed that good classroom management is a major factor - good students' results can suffer if they are in a poorly managed class and, conversely, weak students can thrive in a well-managed environment.  Good classroom management inspires student confidence in the teacher and sets boundaries on how the learning happens.  Bad classroom management takes up all the classroom time.

Teachers often don't give classroom management the importance it deserves.  @Shaunwilden reported that he sees this on diploma courses all the time - teachers think they know it, but then often do it appallingly.  Classroom management techniques evolve over our careers as teachers and it is something we always need to keep in mind when lesson and course planning.


@Marisa_C summed up the chat very nicely by saying that good classroom management is not just about control and discipline, but also about engagement and motivation.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The validity of automated scoring software and its application in ELT contexts

This was the title of the closing plenary at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, given by Professor Timothy L. Farnsworth.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

What is automated scoring?
  • Computer software that automatically assigns scores to writing or speaking samples.
  • Essays can be assigned scores instantly by computer.
  • Test takers can call a testing centre and take an oral test without speaking to a human.
  • Scores can be reported instantly.
  • Some level of feedback is given to test takers.
  • There is a variety of software available.
How does a computer grade a test?

1.  Natural Language Processing (NLP)
  • software identifies and counts linguistic features.
  • software does not attempt to gauge content in any way.
  • used for testing writing.
2.  Speech recognition
  • software compares the speech sample to a large database of samples of the same test questions.
  • faster responses are 'more fluent'.
  • used for testing speaking.
E-rater (ETS)
  • automated scoring of timed essays
  • uses NLP
  • currently used in a limited way to rate TOEFL and GRE
  • used for formative assessment (e.g. TOEFL practice online)
  • individual assessment
  • students submit essays, receive scores and re-write them as many times as they want in order to improve their score
E-rater takes an essay and counts:
  • the number of words
  • the number of sentences
  • the number of paragraphs
  • sentence length
  • the number of unique words used versus the total number of words (lexical diversity)
  • the number of low-frequency words (lexical depth)
  • the number of prompt-specific words (topic appropriateness)
The computer doesn't try to understand the essay, but it does look at grammar:
  • dependent/independent clauses
  • passive voice
  • subject-verb agreement
  • plurals
  • sequencing words
  • logical relations
  • mechanics (punctuation, for example)
What is a good essay according to E-rater?
  • It's long - longer is always better!
  • It has a standard structure.
  • It has many longer sentences with a lot of dependent clauses.
  • It has many explicit organisational words.
  • It has a lot of obscure vocabulary - for example, indubitably would score much higher than surely!
  • It has a wide range of vocabulary.
This is not necessarily a good thing!  Good English writing is often simple, clear and concise.

What does E-rater not notice?
  • Untruths
  • Grammatical errors
  • Lexical errors
  • Flawed arguments
  • Insanity!
Therefore, ETS doesn't use E-rater as the sole scorer for tests.  Rather, it is used as the second human in order to save money.  More than ten years of research hasn't solved the problems with E-rater - it's incredibly hard to get a computer to understand language!


This is an E-rater application designed for in-class use.  Students' essays are instantly scored using E-rater software.  Students are given individual scores and extra resources to refer to about their errors.


This is the first fully automated oral language test used commercially.  It is a Pearson product.  The test is taken in a computer lab or over the phone (speaking to a computer).  The computer automatically rates the speech and produces scores.  It is used widely in business and increasingly in schools.  There are many versions with multiple uses and languages - for the aviation industry, for example.

The test is fifteen minutes long and includes:
  • repeating sentences
  • scrambled sentences
  • oral multiple choice
All responses are totally scripted with only one possible right answer.  There is an optional 'free response' answer, but this is not scored.  Answers are scored on:
  • fluency
  • pronunciation
  • sentence mastery
  • vocabulary
  • grammar
Speech is captured by microphone and compared to a large database of human-scored responses.  The database includes responses from native speakers from different countries, and English learners from different countries and of all proficiency levels.  Scores are given in the range of 'most similar' to the sample.

What is a good Versant response?
  • It's fast (fluency score)
  • It's clear
  • It's accurate
  • It has native-like pronunciation
This last criteria is the most contentious.  We talk about 'global English' now and, for most of us, comprehensibility is much more important than native-like speech.

What Versant doesn't measure:
  • the range of vocabulary used
  • extended speaking
  • pragmatics - cultural awareness, for example
  • the ability to interact with others
Advantages of these systems

  • computers don't get tired
  • computers aren't biased for or against individuals
  • scores are more consistent than with human raters
  • it's less expensive than using human raters
  • scores and feedback are obtained instantly
Research shows that when test takers are 'acting in good faith', scores are roughly equivalent to those of human raters.  Even though the scores are very similar, however, they are arrived at in very different ways.


Automated tests can be 'gamed' or tricked.  Versant scores, for example, can be quickly raised by coaching.

Positive effects on teaching
  • Students can get more and faster feedback.
Negative effects on teaching
  • The form of the test can influence what happens in the classroom.
  • Teachers tend to focus on what is tested at the expense of communicative teaching.
  • There can be a decreased focus on the quality of the content.
  • There can be an increased focus on grammatical accuracy and low-frequency vocabulary.
  • There is more oral repetition in order to increase the students' speed of response.
  • There is less time spent on developing critical thinking.
  • There is a decreased focus on the pragmatic.
To conclude

Despite the obvious drawbacks, computer scored testing is in all our futures.

Power of the image: ways to use photographs in ELT

This was the title of a presentation at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, given by Paul Grainger from National Geographic Cengage.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Using images as the basis for discussion
  • Show an image quickly and then hide it.  Ask the students what they remember about it.
  • Show the image for longer and pose questions - who are the people?, what are they doing?, what happened before the picture was taken?, what do you think happened next?, how does this picture make you feel?
The history of the image
  • Cave drawings
  • Printing press
  • Typewriter
  • Visual literacy
We have gone from text rich images to those where the picture is more and more important.

The power of the image

Today pictures are uploaded and shared on social media, giving them an immediacy and profound impact.  As the saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'.  As teachers, we need to exploit this, even at low levels when we can teach new vocabulary with images.  People think using images, so seeing comes before the use of words.  As Aristotle said, 'without image, thinking is impossible'.  We remember far more about texts if they are illustrated - the 'picture superiority effect'.

Images can be:
  • surprising
  • shocking
  • funny
  • sexy
  • powerful
  • disgusting
  • frightening
  • ambiguous

After 72 hours, we retain 65-70% of visual information, whereas we remember only 10% of something we've read or heard.  After a year, the retention rate remains at 65-70% for information we've seen, but drops to only 1% for written or aural information.

The best images to use in ELT are those which:
  • provoke an emotional response
  • arouse interest
  • generate discussion
Ideas for using photographs
  1. Captions - If you can make your students laugh, you can make them do anything!  Show them a photo of people or animals and ask them to imagine what they are saying.  This is a great warmer - it engages students and stimulates creativity.
  2. Creative question and answer practice - Show pictures of people and get students to work in pairs to ask and answer questions about them.  The person answering the questions pretends he knows the people in the picture and invents a whole back story for them.  For lower level students, you could limit the questions to the grammar point being studied.  You can do this activity with any picture in the coursebook - before a listening, for example.
  3. Personal photos - Tie these in with the topic of the unit.  Show your own photos before the start of the unit as an introduction.  Get students to ask questions about them.  Students can also use their photos.  This is very engaging for students as they get to know more about their teacher as well as being able to share personal stories with their classmates.
  4. Introducing a new topic or new vocabulary - Use photographs to generate interest in a new topic or to provide a visual reminder for new vocabulary. 
  5. Pre-listening/pre-reading - Get students to focus on an image before they do a reading or a listening.  This really helps with their prediction skills and can be particularly useful when helping students with exam strategies.
Advantages of using images
  • It motivates students
  • It makes the material more memorable leading to higher retention rates
  • It is a natural approach
  • You can present the usual in an unusual way
  • It's fun!

Using PowerPoint for Teaching English

This was the title of a presentation at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, given by Khau Huu Phuoc.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Teaching with information communications technology (ICT)

ICT involves using:
  • mobile phones
  • computers
  • audio-visual systems
  • the internet
  • software, such as PowerPoint or Hot Potatoes
Teaching with PowerPoint

When using books, it's difficult for us as teachers to refer to a specific point nin a text.  With PowerPoint, we can:
  • Make something appear - for example, in gapfills where we can show the answer so that students are clear about what is correct (we can make words appear in any order or we can number the gaps and then fill them by clicking on the number making the exercise very easy to follow), or when teaching new vocabulary, we can click on a part of a picture to make the word appear.
  • Move something - for example, in matching sentence halves or in inserting relative clauses.  You can put in sound effects for right and wrong answers - audio feedback is very engaging for students.
  • Make something disappear - we can hide answers, which is particularly good when doing vocabulary tests.  For example, we can make words disappear as a clock ticks down to zero.
  • Use custom animations (although we must have a purpose for using animation!) - there are four types of animation available with PowerPoint - entrance, emphasis, exit, and motion path.
All of these tools can focus students' attention on what we want them to learn.  As teachers, we can highlight places in a text very easily.  It saves a lot of time writing on the board and is very engaging for students.

Flipping the classroom: using a blended learning approach to actively engage students inside and outside of class

This was the title of a presentation at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, given by Rebecca Fletcher.  What follows is a summary of what she had to say.

How have teaching and students changed in the 21st century?
  • Students take pictures of the whiteboard, rather than taking notes.
  • Students’ attention spans are getting shorter.
  • Teachers need more activities to engage students. 
  • We now have interactive whiteboards.
  • The classroom is much more student centred and collaborative.
  • We use laptops and tablets rather than paper.
21st century student
What is blended learning?
Blended learning is teaching in the classroom mixed with learning outside the class.
Flipping the classroom – how does it work?
Flipping the classroom allows the school to become a place for talking, doing group projects and getting individual help from the teacher, and lets home become a place for doing pre-learning, such as watching instructional videos, and self-study.  Flipping what the student does means that they do the work ahead of time, come to class and debrief.  Students interact with the material before they come to class.  It empowers students to direct their own learning by coming to class ‘genned up’.
Why digital?
Digital is omnipresent in all aspects of life – we need to embrace it.  Flipping the classroom supports student centred learning and helps students make connections between the real world and the classroom.
What materials can be ‘flipped’?
  • video
  • audio files
  • powerpoints
  • documents
  • images
  • links to websites
It’s important to have a wide variety of materials.
Social networks
Use social networks to:
  • support self-paced learning
  • practise new language in an engaging environment
  • maximise authentic input
  • build a learning community
Using Facebook with your students
Students will be using English outside the classroom in an authentic way.
  • Create a page for each of your classes.  Students can ‘like’ the page and comment on the links.
  • Put images on Facebook and ask students, ‘what do you think will happen next?’ or ‘what happened just before this picture was taken?’
  • Students post comments on an image and then come into class and discuss them.
  • Students can write collaborative stories on Facebook.
For security, students should create a Facebook account to use only for students.
Where can you find materials to flip?
  • You can create your own or, better still, get students to create them.
  • Use publisher-created materials.
  • Use ELT websites.
Recommended websites  
Learning Management Systems
LMSs or VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) are software programmes which can be used to grade and monitor students.  One of the most well-known is Edmodo.  Teachers can assign work and track their students' progress.
We have progressed from PPP (present, practise, produce) to PPPP (present, practise, produce, publish).  Blogs are student-centred with student-generated content.
To conclude
Flipping the classroom saves time both inside and outside of the class.

Digital inspirations for the young and not so young: motivating learners, motivating teachers

This was the title of the opening plenary at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, presented by Heather Barikmo and Marcus Artigliere.  What follows is a summary of what they had to say.

They addressed these two questions:
  • What is motivation?
  • How can current instructional technology shape motivation for both teachers and learners?
External versus intrinsic motivation

We have to consider both external motivation (the expectations laid down by the principal resources available) and intrinsic motivation (our own sense of curiosity and willingness to try new things).

Teachers give up on new technology more quickly if they are only subject to external motivation.  The desire to use new technology has to come from within the teacher.  The presence of the technology alone is not enough to motivate us.

Constructivist education

This is the idea that learners ultimately construct their own knowledge.  It is all about situated learning - that is, learning which is context related.

As teachers, we don't often use technology to construct learning - we tend to use it just as a tool.  It is often hard for us to change the way we teach to digital natives.


How and why should we use technology?  Some examples:
  • Using i-Pads to discuss facts and opinions about animals.  For example, 'Can animals think?' - students create digital books using screenshots of PowerPoint presentations.  They personalise their learning and increase their efficacy.  It's engaging for the students because learning becomes much more self-directed.
  • Developing digital stories - another way students and teachers can develop a constructivist approach to learning.
  • Creating digital post-its of the phonetic pronunciation of new vocabulary.
  • Writing notes on an IWB over a projected image.
Projects like this increase digital literacy and learners become more self-reliant.  They are invested in their own learning and results.  Students can also help teachers when using technology in class.  They can become the teachers.  This role reversal can be highly motivating for both students and teachers.

The constructivist approach with students

1. Vocabulary on the street - students use mobile phones to take photos of words they see or make notes on words they hear.  They then e-mail these to the teacher who makes a presentation of this 'found' vocabulary to show to the rest of the class.  In this way, students create the word lists rather than them coming from coursebooks.  This is very motivating for them.

2. Blogs as a class space - class blogs can be used by the teacher to share presentations with students and extend the classroom time.  They can also be used to practise web-based reading, with a focus on hypertext where students click on links to learn more about a topic and then come back to the original text.  Students can use the comments section of the blog to give feedback on classroom material.

3. Interactive maps - use mapping software to learn more about places discussed in class.

By using these ideas, students continue to look at course content long after a course has finished.

The constructivist approach with colleagues

Faculty blogs and wikis - wikis can be password protected to turn them into filing cabinets for the faculty.  They can also be developed to serve as a textbook.  Current staff can be given author rights to post on a faculty blog and these rights can subsequently be removed when a teacher leaves.

The idea of using technology in our classrooms is a global concept which can not be ignored!

8th VUS-TESOL Conference, City Hall, Saigon, 21st July 2013

Having attended the 7th conference last year, I was keen to go to this year's meeting, the theme of which was 'Incorporating Technology in ELT - Why and How?'  Whilst it didn't attract quite the same calibre of 'star' names as last year (Alan Maley was plenary speaker), the conference was very successful and packed full of interesting and useful presentations and workshops.  I will write up the most interesting sessions in a short series of blogposts to follow this one, but you can read a summary of the day's proceedings on the VUS website here.