Welcome to the Thirteenth Issue of the Warwick ELT!

Dear readers

We are very pleased to release our thirteenth issue of The Warwick ELT e-zine. Teachers from the various contexts contributed to this issues with their experiences, great insight and suggestions.

This issue comprises five interesting and engaging articles with a rich diversity of topics covered by the authors. In the first article “Self-Access Learning Centres in developing learner autonomy: attitudes of students from the department of English, University of Dhaka”Apala Biswas discusses how the centre at the university helps students to be autonomous language learners and what challenges they might face at the Centre for English Teaching and Research (CETR). It also suggests the ways that a trained instructor can be assistive to students. The second article “Publishing effective course materials for EIL” by Caroline Lewis considers some issues surrounding English as an International Language from a publishers’ perspective. It examines how the spread of English in different forms and context around the world presents practical problems and how publishers can serve their diverse customers appropriately.   The third article by Catalina Bravo “Authentic assessment of young learners in Chilean context”, is about effective tools to assess young learners. It discusses the principles in which the suggested assessment plan was created. Furthermore, she highlights how this approach is applicable not only to Chilean context but also to all countries where English is taught as a foreign language.  The fourth article is “Promoting a positive response to oral post-observation feedback”, in which Judy Barker explores impacts of positive feedback on improving teaching and development of CELTA trainees.  In our fifth article, “Theoretical and practical insights for using blogging in the language classroom in a Palestinian University”, Yousef Abuzaid provides input related to various theoretical and practical aspects for using blogging platforms such as Blogspot and WordPress.

For your ease, we have hyperlinked each article below:

  1. Self – Access Learning Centres in developing learner autonomy: attitudes of students from the Department of English, University of Dhaka by Apala Biswas
  2. Publishing effective course materials for EIL by Carrie Lewis
  3. Authentic assessment of young learners in Chilean context by Catalina Bravo
  4. Promoting a positive response to oral post-observation feedback by Judy Barker
  5. Theoretical and practical insights for using blogging in the language classroom in a Palestinian University by Yousef Abuzaid

We hope these articles will help you gain some new insights in the field of applied linguistics and teaching methods. As usual, we welcome your valued remarks.

Enjoy reading!

Issue editors

Begibaeva Nilufar , Chindipha Cynthia , Joy Onymaechi

 

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Theoretical and practical insights for using blogging in the language classroom in a Palestinian University

 

*Yousef Abuzaid

Abstract

This article examines various theoretical and practical aspects for using blogging platforms such as Blogspot and WordPress in the language classroom. Based on his own experience with blogging and results of research findings, the author first offers a general rationale for blogging in the language classroom then examines how the blogging activity can promote the students’ motivation. The author depends on his own context and experience to suggest practical application of blogging based on theoretical teaching ideas.

Keywords: Blog, motivation, collaboration, share

  1. Introduction:

The internet is a major advancement for humans in all walks of life, and education is not an exception. Teachers need to maximize the beneficial aspects of the internet in facilitating and improving the learning experience. Recently, blogs have been receiving a great amount of attention as a medium to combine technology with teaching a second language. This paper aims at reflecting on my blogging experience with blogging at ICT in ELT with Joe (http://ictineltwithjoe.blogspot.co.uk). In addition, drawing on current theories of language learning and the findings of my experience, the paper will describe the potential use of blogs in the context of teaching writing for undergraduate students majoring in English Language Teaching in Palestine.

  1. Literature Review

2.1. Why blog in the Writing Classroom?

White &Arndt (1991) argue that an effective and authentic writing class is one where students read and reflect on one another’s writing, for in the real world, texts are not written to be read and marked by a teacher, but rather to communicate a message to an audience who in turn will have a response. Making use of blogs can increase the level of interaction between the students as a result (Richardson 2010; Trajtemberg &Yiakoumetti, 2011).

Richardson (2010) argues that blogs can help in establishing a student-centred classroom environment. Interaction between students is crucially important in learning a second language, for the language produced by a student functions as input for other students, which creates an opportunity for negotiating meaning (Hedge, 2000). In their experiment, Amir, Ismail and Hussin (2011) reported that through interacting on the blog medium, the students they examined made an observable development of their vocabulary and grammar competence as well as their reading and writing skills.

Moreover, Richardson (2010) suggests that blogs have created a significant shift in the assessment methods of writing. Some might argue that traditional writing tests where students write to be corrected by the teacher are necessary since they push the students towards finishing the writing task in a limited period of time. Nevertheless, this being the only method of testing makes writing seem like the ultimate goal instead of being a purposeful collaborative activity (Potro, 2001). Potro (2001) emphasises that when learning writing, the students should be given more time to practice the skill and to improve their level of language accuracy. When the students are asked to use the blog medium for sharing their writing, they are usually not merely marked upon the piece of writing they share, but also upon their response to their classmates and the level of criticality they reflect.

2.2. Blogging and Motivating Learners

The interest in using blogging by second language writing researchers stems from the proposed idea that this new medium provides higher levels of motivation for students to engage more in writing activities and communicate with their teachers and peers (Pinkman, 2005; Trajetemberg &Yiakoumetti, 2011).

Ellis (2008) argues that learners’ motivation primarily reflects their response to a specific learning environment; therefore, the teacher must choose teaching and evaluating methods which stimulate the students’ interests. Amir, Ismail and Hussin (2011) found that when blogging, the students’ level of motivation increases due to the interactive atmosphere and the increased level of learner autonomy. Trajtemberg and Yiakoumetti (2011) support this view and argue that due to the blog’s highly interactive nature; students’ indirectly start scaffolding one another. This scaffolding is crucially important for all learners, yet it is particularly useful for more introvert and low-achieving learners, for they will be given the chance to increase their confidence in the target language (Trajtemberg &Yiakoumetti, 2011).

It is worth noting that empirical research on using blogs in the language classroom suggests that blogs have the potential for developing the students’ independence and interaction in the writing classroom; nevertheless, this premise reflects the students’ acceptance of blogs at early stages since current published research presents a general positive attitude towards blogging (Pinkman, 2005; Trajtemberg &Yiakoumettie, 2011). In other words, students were enthusiastic about the idea of blogging, yet this enthusiasm wasn’t reflected in a commitment to blogging after the experiments were over. Thus, I believe that more research on the link between motivation and blogging at later stages is required.

2.3.  Insights from Research for my Blogging Experience and Teaching Context

Godwin-Jones (2006) argues that when blogs are used to share writing, the students’ ability to articulate their opinions is increased, and therefore their constructive argumentation and persuasion skills shall improve. Interacting via blogs provokes critical and analytical thought since it gives the students the opportunity to identify with each other’s experiences (Ellison & Wu, 2008). The students in my context particularly need a motive for developing such skills, for in the undergraduate level, the students will study more advanced modules that demand higher levels of self-expressiveness and persuasion skills such as the Practicum module where the students need to submit a report rationalising their experience with practicing teaching at a school.

In addition, blogging is considered a tool for self-representation on the web. Bronstein (2013) interestingly argues that for bloggers, the blog becomes “part of their selves, a communication tool, a writing tool and a favourite hobby” (p.175). Writers read each other’s blogs in order to find people who share their interests, form a community and become involved in more genuine discussions (Bronstein, 2013). Through the blog, the students will be encouraged to express themselves and their preferences. When encouraged to read one another’s blogs and to comment on them, the students are likely to make new friends with people who share their interests as well as comment on each other’s blogs in a friendly atmosphere. Bronstein (2013) found that when given positive comments, bloggers feel honoured and become motivated to share more content and to establish a wider network with other bloggers.

Finally, Kim (2008) effectively argues that a blog contributes to decentralising the learning process, i.e., students no longer will have to strictly follow orders from the teacher. Instead, each student builds his/her own entity on a blog and interacts with the other students visiting and commenting on their posts while the teacher works as a facilitator (Kim, 2008). This sense of ownership is likely to enhance online communication through reducing the anxiety that results from sharing content online (Pena-Shaffet al., 2005, cited in Kim, 2008, p. 1344).

  1. Reflections on my Blogging Experience

The experience of blogging on ICT in ELT with Joe (http://ictineltwithjoe.blogspot.co.uk/) was a rewarding one on both the academic and the personal levels. I was quite motivated to explore a new genre of writing. Unlike academic essays where writers need to acquaint themselves with knowledge about a topic primarily through reading from different sources and evaluating research findings, a blog offered me an opportunity to explore and evaluate various ICT in ELT tools through experimenting with the tools myself and reaching my own conclusions.

Moreover, the blog I have established gave me the chance to start an online page where I could present my views and reflections to an audience that share my academic and professional interests, which enabled further critical analysis and evaluation of the tools.

In addition to the useful interaction which took place with my classmates, I managed to share the blog with Palestinian pre-service teachers whom I will be teaching next year, and they were extremely motivated to read about such tools and how they can use them in their teaching. Through such interaction on the blog, the students could develop further evaluation of the various ICT tools I have blogged about through elaborating further points that they agree or disagree with. Such constructive interaction could not have been accomplished through the very common social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Richardson (2010) interestingly argues that in social online publishing websites such as Facebook, the audience is usually more varied, and they are not necessarily interested in reading academic and experimental content, while in tools such as Blogspot and WordPress, readers visit the specific blogs, for they share an interest with the writer and they aspire to learn from other people’s experiences.

  1. Blogging in Palestine:

This section aims at relating the research findings as well as the findings from the reflection to explore how blogging may be used in teaching writing for undergraduate students majoring in English Language Teaching at An-Najah National University in Palestine. The module is entitled Writing I, and the students are expected to practice writing basic paragraphs and short essays expressing their opinions on various topics. I intend to encourage the students to establish blogs and to post one or two paragraphs per week about a specific topic which will be the theme of the week, such as food, tourism, family, etc. Sharing self-reflective and self-expressive writing on blogs is known to be of paramount importance, for the students’ level of interaction increases and therefore learning in general is enhanced (Trajtemberg &Yiakoumetti, 2011).

My main focus will be to give autonomy to the students to further engage with the writing topics we will be discussing in class. However, it is worth noting that I will only ask them to blog outside of the classroom and will give them time periods between each blog because of the lack of necessary equipment and the limited consistent access to the internet at Palestinian universities.

  1. Conclusion

In brief, a well-calculated use of the blog medium in the language classroom can enhance the general atmosphere of the writing class and increase the students’ level of autonomy and motivation. This paper explored the benefits and limitations of using blogs in teaching a second language through research on the topic, reflections of my own blogging experience and then relating the findings to my future teaching context in Palestine. The benefits and newness of the medium of blogging as means to teaching English encourage me to further explore the factors and limitations of implementing such an approach in the future.

References

Amir, Z., Ismail, K., & Hussin, S. (2011). Blogs in language learning: Maximizing students’ collaborative writing. Procedia, 18, 537-543.

Bronstein, J. (2013). Personal blogs as online presences on the internet: Exploring self-presentation and self-disclosure in blogging. Aslib Proceedings, 65(2), 161-181.

Ellis, R. (2008). The study of second language acquisition (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellison, N. B., & Wu, Y. (2008). Blogging in the classroom: A preliminary exploration of student attitudes and impact on comprehension. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 17(1), 99-122.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2006). Tag Clouds in the Blogosphere: Electronic Literacy and Social Networking. Language Learning & Technology, 10(2),8-15.

Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kim, H. N. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers & Education, 51, 1342–1352.

Pinkman, K. (2005). Using blogs in the foreign language classroom: Encouraging learner independence. The JALT CALL Journal, 1(1), 12-24.

Potro. M. (2001). Cooperative writing response groups and self-evaluation. ELT Journal, 55(1), 38-46.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (3rd ed.). California: Corwin.

Trajtemberg, C., &Yiakoumetti, A. (2011). Weblogs: A tool for EFL interaction, expression, and self-evaluation. ELT Journal, 65(4), 437-445.

White, R., & Arndt V. (1991). Process writing. Harlow: Longman.

 

Yousef Abuzaid has a BA in English Langauge and Literature from An-Najah National  University in Palestine. He worked as an English language teacher and a trainer of the IELTS test for a year before deciding to join an MA programme. Currently, he is doing an MA in Drama Education and English Language Teaching at the University of Warwick in England. After finishing the MA, he wishes to return to Palestine to start working as an English language tutor and drama practitioner at the university where he did his undergraduate degree.

Promoting a positive response to oral post-observation feedback

 *Judy Barker

 Abstract

 Educators across disciplines regard feedback on performance as an integral part of learning and teaching (Brandt 2008, Copland 2011, Winstone et al. 2016). Its purpose is to make students aware of their strengths and weaknesses as a basis for further development (Forsythe & Johnson, 2016). However, whereas positive feedback is usually well-received, constructive criticism – particularly when delivered face-to-face in a group setting – often meets with a negative response. As a recently qualified CELTA trainer I have found such a response to hinder rather than help trainee development. In this paper I will therefore evaluate ways of promoting a positive attitude towards oral lesson feedback amongst CELTA trainees. I will do so by relating guidelines for good feedback practice to the CELTA context.

Keywords: teacher training, CELTA, feedback, trainee response, good practice

 Introduction

Being able to provide constructive criticism on teaching practice is one of the core competencies a CELTA trainer-in-training needs to develop (Cambridge English Language Assessment, 2013). However, as a recently approved CELTA tutor I have found that trainees differ considerably in their response to developmental feedback. Whereas some welcome constructive criticism, others see it as a threat and become defensive, slowing down or halting their progress on the course.

Providing necessary feedback can sometimes lead to tensions between trainee and trainer, as well as amongst trainees, creating an unhelpful environment for developing teaching skills. I have found this to be particularly the case during oral group post-teaching practice feedback sessions. The purpose of this paper is therefore to gain a better understanding of some of the underlying factors that influence trainee responses and to identify good oral feedback practice that takes account of such factors. In order to achieve this, I will review current thinking on the topic – in relation to CELTA and more widely. I will relate selected theories to my experience as a CELTA tutor to date and comments on practice made by other trainers.

1      The CELTA context

To be able to review trainees’ response to oral feedback, it is useful to consider the context in which the feedback is given and received. The CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is a widely recognised initial teaching qualification endorsed by Cambridge English. CELTA courses vary in length and therefore intensity, but all feature six hours of assessed teaching practice (TP). TP is usually followed by a short break, during which trainees complete a self-evaluation form about their lesson. All the trainees in the TP group (up to six) and the supervising tutor subsequently meet to discuss the lessons, with the trainees giving feedback on peer lessons and receiving tutor and peer feedback on their own lesson. The feedback meetings generally last for approximately 45 minutes. Lessons are graded below standard, to standard or above standard by reference to a set of criteria covering categories such as lesson planning, language teaching and feedback. The oral feedback is complemented by a written report.

2      Feedback: purpose and response

In higher education in general feedback aims “to help students become aware and translate that awareness into fruitful behavioural change” (Forsythe & Johnson 2016, p. 1). Within the CELTA context, the purpose of post-observation oral feedback is to enhance trainees’ teaching practice (Brandt, 2008).

2.1       Response to feedback on strengths

 Both tutors and trainees find it relatively easy to discuss what went well in a lesson. This is my own experience and appears confirmed by the fact that research exclusively focused on highlighting strengths is relatively scarce. Positive feedback seems to set in motion a positive cycle: trainees gain confidence and as a result get even better at what they were already doing well. For example, in her first assessed lessons one of the trainees in my TP group used computer-manipulated images of her dog to elicit travel vocabulary. Her humorous, creative and personalised approach helped her build good rapport with her learners, as well as elicit some of the target vocabulary. The positive feedback she received in the post-observation TP meeting resulted in her exploiting these strengths further: in subsequent lessons she used personal themes as a coherent, engaging context throughout. She fine-tuned her humorous teaching style by developing greater learner awareness, turning it into one of her main assets by the end of the course.

2.2       Response to feedback on weaknesses

 By contrast, highlighting areas for improvement in a trainee’s lesson during TP feedback can lead to tensions, in particular if the lesson is graded as ‘below standard’. The following extract from a CELTA trainer’s blog illustrates this:

On being told that [the lesson] was ‘below standard’ for that stage of the course, the trainee asked if the grade could be changed. I said it couldn’t, and started to explain why with reference to the Cambridge criteria (although I thought the points had already been made clear during the preceding few minutes of feedback). The trainee stormed out of the room and slammed the door at this point. This was a shock to me and the rest of their TP group, and I wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, I did the only thing I could, which was to apologise and move on to the final trainee’s feedback. (Millin, 2015)

I was confronted with a similar problem – although less extreme – when a worried trainee persistently diverted attention away from the evaluation of peers’ lessons to continue arguing points raised about her own lesson. It is not uncommon for trainees to react so negatively to carefully worded constructive criticism, either verbally or non-verbally, that tutors feel pressurised into becoming overly polite. As a result, there is a danger that the message is lost (Gakonga, 2017) or that the tutor refrains from commenting on a particular weakness at all.

Winstone et al. (2017) suggest that even when the message is received and understood, a negative attitude can result in students not acting upon challenging feedback, making the feedback ineffective. This was the case when one of the trainees on my trainer-in-training course was highly resistant to changing his authoritative teaching style. As a result, he failed to build up a good rapport with his learners, one of prerequisites for creating an environment conducive to learning. Naturally, there are other reasons why trainees fail to act upon feedback, but these fall outside the scope of this paper.

3      Factors influencing response to oral feedback

Given the key role of constructive feedback in the development of trainees’ teaching skills, an investigation of the underlying causes for negative trainee responses seems the first step towards identifying good practice. Factors inhibiting positive engagement with developmental feedback have been extensively researched in a wide range of disciplines and findings apply equally to teacher training (Brandt, 2008). Below I have therefore considered relevant points raised in relation to teacher training, psychology and the wider educational context.

3.1       Feedback as a face-threatening act

 Constructive criticism from tutors and peers can leave trainees feeling offended, resulting in a defensive rejection of the feedback. ‘I don’t like the people in my group. Some are rude to me’, one trainee commented after contesting justified, carefully phrased feedback from her fellow-trainees on the balance between teacher talk and student talk in her lesson. Gakonga suggests that the post-observation feedback meeting is a ‘vulnerable space’, where trainees feel in danger of losing face (Gakonga, 2017). She argues that TP feedback is inherently face-threatening, relating the interaction to Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (Brown and Levinson, 1987). Summarising this theory, she notes that requests, suggestions, advice threaten negative face and that criticism threatens positive face: “We all want to be free and we all want to be liked, so anything that threatens either of those two aspects of our face has the potential to be upsetting.” (ibid)

However, it can be debated whether Brown and Levinson’s ‘universal’ rules equally apply to educational post-observation meetings. Trainees want to and need to become aware how they can improve their teaching skills and therefore invite feedback. ‘You are all very nice, but I want to hear what I did wrong’, one of my trainees observed after receiving nothing but praise from her peers, which resulted in more constructive feedback. Gakonga’s point that TP feedback is “different to other interactions” (ibid) therefore seems valid and suggests that trainees may not respond as defensively.

3.2       Personal beliefs

 Whereas maintaining ‘face’ relates to one’s interaction with and perception by others, Forsythe & Johnson suggest students’ negative reaction to developmental feedback may be related to how they see themselves. The authors refer to Dweck’s concept of mindset (Dweck, 2002) to relate students’ rejection of feedback to their innate conviction that they are unable to change their basic ability significantly: “The detrimental impact of a fixed mindset lies with the replacement of active learning opportunities with self-restoring mechanisms that protect self-esteem.” (Forsythe & Johnson 2016, p. 2)

Conversely, students with a growth mindset believe that they have control over their ability and are motivated to learn (ibid). Applied to TP feedback one could therefore conclude that trainees with a growth mindset are more likely to be open to constructive criticism, or even invite it, as was the case with the trainee quoted above.

Forsythe and Johnson’s study revealed that the university student population under investigation was dominated by fixed-mindset students, leading them to conclude that “Generally, students are fostering self-defensive behaviours that fail to nurture remediation following feedback” (Forsythe & Johnson 2016, p. 1).

As yet it seems little or no research seems available about the proportion of fixed versus growth mindsets amongst CELTA trainees. Further research into this area might reveal whether CELTA trainees are more likely to have a growth mindset, just as they may be more open to criticism, as suggested under 3.1 above.

3.3       Pressure of time limiting dialogue and reflection

A critical issue raised by CELTA trainees in a study conducted by Brandt is that there is little time in TP feedback for trainees to justify their planning and delivery of a lesson. Trainees wanted to enter into a dialogue about feedback received, but felt that “it would be selfish […] to take up more time” (Brandt 2008, p. 41). Yet Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick point out that such dialogue is essential for the understanding and internalisation of feedback (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Mann & Walsh confirm both Brandt’s and Nicol and Macfarlane’s findings:

We are fully aware that time is always pressing and that relatively short courses (like CELTA) mean that this is necessarily a challenge. Also, tutors may feel that, under time pressure, it is necessary to ‘cut to the chase’ and be relatively directive and authoritative. (Mann & Walsh 2017, p. 48)

Such an authoritative approach is likely to evoke resistance to feedback, instead of engagement, reflection and ultimately changes in trainees’ teaching practice. When giving TP feedback one feels one has to guard against ‘telling’ trainees to save time. On occasions when on reflection I felt there had been too much trainer talk, subsequent lessons showed that trainees had not internalised suggested changes or reluctantly implemented changes without clear insight into the underlying reasons. For example, one trainee responded to previous feedback on her board use by dividing the board in clear, colour-coded sections at the start of her lesson, but failing to use the board at all during the lesson. My dissatisfaction with the delivery of my feedback illustrates the ‘disjuncture between trainer’s hopes for feedback and its realities’, as observed by Copland (2011).

3.4       Quality of feedback

 Another factor that can contribute to trainees responding negatively in post-observation meetings is the quality of the feedback. Brandt reports that trainees prefer ‘authentic feedback at all times’ (Brandt 2008, p. 39), although it could be debated that this may be at odds with the need to avoid face-threatening acts as mentioned under 3.1 above. Experience has taught me that the need to preserve trainees’ face and self-esteem may necessitate adjusting the authenticity of the feedback.

Inconsistency in the application of course criteria and judgement of related performance between different tutors can also lead to confusion, as illustrated by the trainee comment below:

Tutors took different views and it sometimes seemed that they rarely if ever communicated amongst themselves. What one tutor would find acceptable and worthy of compliments, another might condemn. (Brandt 2008, p. 40)

One could expect this to be particularly the case on relatively new courses, or courses using freelance trainers who have had little opportunity for discussion with their colleagues.

Further issues with the quality of feedback involve the quality of peer feedback. Contributing to TP feedback on peer’s lessons is one of the course criteria, but, as Brandt observes, trainees can be reluctant to criticise their peers or simply not be interested in their peers’ performance, as they perceive their own progress as more important (Brandt, 2008). In addition, trainees may feel that their peers lack the expertise to identify areas for improvement. Conversely, in the past year several trainees have commented that they felt they had not yet developed sufficient insight into teaching skills to be able to provide valid comments, particularly in the early stages of the course. One of my trainees observed: “We get asked to give feedback, but I don’t really know what I’m looking for. I don’t feel I know enough to see what’s wrong.”

4      Good feedback practice

Various models of good feedback practice provide strategies for addressing some of the issues raised above. Below the scope for using some of these strategies to promote a positive response to oral post-observation feedback is evaluated.

4.1       Building and maintaining positive relationships

 Mercer (2017) highlights the importance of a good relationship between teacher and learners, or – in the case of teacher training – trainees. At IATEFL 2017 conference she asserted that training teachers is just another form of teaching, so that the same psychology applies as when teaching language learners. Research into CELTA trainees’ views confirms that the quality of the trainee-tutor relationship has a great impact on the value trainees attach to tutor feedback (Brandt, 2008).

In order to build and maintain good relationships, Gakonga highlights the merits of observing universally recognised politeness strategies, as proposed by Brown & Levinson (1987). Such strategies are deployed to avoid resistance and embarrassment (Gakonga, 2017). Although criticism is an inherent feature of professional training and it may therefore be argued that TP feedback deviates from the universal situations that Brown and Levinson envisaged, trainees’ reactions in TP feedback meetings indicate that such social conventions do nevertheless apply. It therefore seems appropriate and useful to be aware of them.

To avoid the risk of damaging the tutor-trainee relationship by seeming overly critical, as well as trainees losing confidence in their own abilities, it is widely recommended to ‘sandwich’ constructive feedback between positive feedback, resulting in a positive-negative-positive pattern (see, for example, Robson, 2014). However, this approach can become predictable and therefore lose credibility. After hearing the ‘good news’, trainees seem to prepare for the ‘bad news’, some prompting ‘but…?’ Consequently, varying one’s feedback method would be advisable.

4.2       Developing a growth mindset

Students with a growth mindset are more likely to be receptive to feedback than students with a fixed mindset, as they feel they have the ability to develop (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017). Mercer applies the same principle to language learners and teachers (Mercer, 2017). Interestingly, she argues that mindsets are ‘domain specific’ and people can have contradictory mindsets. Relating this to trainees I have observed, this could explain why some confidently embrace the complex area of phonology, but are convinced they cannot understand or teach grammar, although both may be relatively unknown territory. Similarly, Mercer relates how trainees taking part in her research project felt confident about developing their teaching competences, but did not believe they could develop their interpersonal skills.

In addition to being domain specific, Mercer observes that mindsets operate on a continuum between fixed and growth, rather than being either one extreme or the other. To convert a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, she advocates praising frequently, setting a good example and showing confidence in the leaner’s or trainee’s ability to develop (ibid). However, Korthagen warns that “identity change is a difficult and sometimes even painful process” (2004, p. 85). An evaluation of trainees’ mindsets with regard to specific teaching competences at an early stage in the CELTA course could raise both trainees’ and trainers’ awareness of potential barriers. Little data seems available on this subject and further research into the impact of such evaluation on trainees’ attitude towards and internalisation of feedback could therefore be worthwhile.

4.3       Time for reflection

 As established under 3.3, trainees are less likely to respond well to feedback if they cannot enter into a dialogue with their tutor and peers. Brandt observes that reflective practice positively influences trainee attitude towards feedback and suggests post-observation TP meetings should be viewed as ‘reflective conversations’ (Brandt 2008, p. 43). Other researchers hold the same view. Copland, Ma and Mann, for instance, advocate a more dialogic approach, where trainers and trainees participate on equal terms (Copland, Ma & Mann 2009).

However, due to the various roles trainers perform during TP feedback meetings, such equality can be difficult to establish. Trainers not only provide support and advice, but also assess trainees’ performance (Copland 2011). Copland suggests making deliberate use of discourse strategies to encourage trainee participation (ibid). As part of her dissertation study Tudor Jones (2012) explored using ‘open floor invitations’ to reduce the directive role of the trainer and provide more opportunity for trainees to reflect on lessons. Amongst other things, this technique makes use of minimal approving or questioning sounds to encourage trainees to elaborate and reduce trainer talk. As a former trainer-mentee I had the opportunity to observe and use this approach during my training as a CELTA tutor and I have found it to be very effective for encouraging trainee participation and reflection in subsequent TP feedback meetings.

4.4       Providing good quality feedback

 As one might expect, trainee feedback suggest that good quality feedback is more likely to be well received than feedback that is perceived to be inconsistent or unsubstantiated (Brandt, 2008). To address inconsistencies in the interpretation of assessment criteria between tutors, CELTA tutors are required to take part in standardisation exercises organised by Cambridge English, the awarding body. Regularly observing other trainers during TP feedback has also proved beneficial for alignment between tutors.

Providing evidence, such as a video recording of the lesson, can help to make feedback more objective (Mann & Walsh, 2015). Quotations noted down in a running commentary can also contribute to clarifying a point made. For instance, when discussing a particular trainee’s need to grade her language more, being able to illustrate my point with clear evidence made the feedback both clearer and more objective. The trainee attempted to elicit the word ‘optimist’ in an upper-intermediate lesson and used the following concept check question:

“Being an optimist, is that a positive emotion at the end of the day?”

Apart from being evidence-based, good feedback practice also makes it clear what objectives need to be achieved and what criteria are applied (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Criteria are set out in a personal CELTA file, which every trainee needs to keep up to date and referring to these during TP feedback makes assessment more transparent.

The quality of peer feedback can be improved in various ways. Tutors can contribute by providing a clear model. After the first few TP feedback sessions, trainees start copying the model, both in the way they phrase the feedback and in the points they raise. Experience has shown that the quality of the feedback improves as the trainees’ own teaching skills develop. Guidelines on receiving and providing feedback are set out in teacher methodology books (e.g. Scrivener, 2011). Finally, it is good to make trainees aware that their feedback and reflection on peers’ lessons is assessed, as set out in the CELTA syllabus.

Conclusion

Feedback on performance is generally regarded as an integral part of learning and teaching (Brandt 2008, Copland 2011, Winstone et al. 2016). However, if trainees respond negatively to developmental feedback in post-observation TP meetings, there is no gain. In this paper ways of promoting a positive attitude towards such feedback have been considered and guidelines for good feedback practice have been evaluated in relation to examples from feedback practice.

References

 Brandt, C. (2008) ‘Integrating feedback and reflection in teacher preparation’, ELT Journal, 62/1, pp. 37-46.

Brown, P., and Levinson, S. (1987) Politeness: Some language universals in language use.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Copland, F. (2011) ‘Legitimate talk in feedback conferences’, Applied Linguistics 2012, 33/1, 1-20.

Copland, F., Ma, G. and Mann, S. (2009) ‘Reflecting in and on post-observation feedback in

initial teacher training on certificate courses’, English Language Teacher Education and Development, 12 (Winter 2009).

Cambridge English Teaching Qualifications: CELTA Trainer in Training Guidelines Version

   3, (2013). Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Dweck, C. (2002), ‘The development of ability conceptions’, in Wigfield, A. and Eccles, J.

(eds.) Development of achievement motivation, New York: Academic Press. pp. 57-88.

Forsythe, A. & Johnson, S. (2016), ‘Thanks, but no-thanks for the feedback’, Assessment &

Evaluation in Higher Education, pp. 1-10. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02602938.2016.1202190. (Accessed 19 April 2017)

Gakonga, J. (2017) Politeness strategies in TP feedback Available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jRuytxMI88&t=187s (Accessed 29 April 2017).

Korthagen, F. (2003), ‘In search of the essence of a good teacher: towards a more holistic

approach in teacher education’, Teaching and Teacher Education, 20 (2004), pp. 77-97.

Mann, S. and Walsh, S. (2017) Reflective practice in English language teaching: research-

based principles and practices. New York: Routledge.

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https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/celta-week-three/ (Accessed: 28 April 2017).

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Online: Glasgow 2017. Available at https://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017/session/plenary-session-sarah-mercer. (Accessed 21 April 2017).

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learning: a model and seven principles for good feedback practice’, Higher Education 31 (2) (2006), pp. 199-218.

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Brookes e-journal of Learning and Teaching. Available at: http://bejlt.brookes.ac.uk/paper/providing-sandwiches-optimising-feedback-at-the-education-picnic. (Accessed 30 April 2017).

Scrivener, Jim (2011) Learning teaching: the essential guide to English language teaching.

3rd edn. London: Macmillan Education

Tudor Jones, C. (2012). A reflective inquiry into post-observation multiparty feedback.

Unpublished dissertation. University of Warwick.

Walsh, S. and Mann, S., (2015) Doing reflective practice: a data-led way forward. ELT

 Journal, 69 (4), pp. 351-362.

Winstone, N. E., Nash, R. A., Rowntree, J., & Parker, M. (2016) ‘’It’d be useful, but I wouldn’t use it’: Barriers to university students’ feedback seeking and recipience’. Studies in Higher Education, vol Early online, pp. 1-16. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/ 10.1080/03075079.2015.1130032. (Accessed 21 April 2017).

 

 

Authentic assessment of young learners in Chilean context

 *Catalina Bravo

Abstract

This article presents English Chilean context and discusses the principles in which the suggested assessment plan was created. Assessment tasks and procedures are explained based on relevant literature in the field of young leaners’ education ad assessment. The assessment plan along with the criteria described in the paper are applicable not only to Chilean context but also to all countries where English is taught as a foreign language.

 Keywords: young learners, teaching English, authentic assessment, story book design

Introduction

          

The last decades, a worldwide tendency to start teaching English as early as possible has emerged (Nunan, 2013). This has implied an increasingly concern on young learner materials designers (Ghosn, 2013) and a need for qualified Early Years English teachers (Nunan, 2013). However, less importance it has been given to how asses effectively the youngest language learners (McKay, 2009).

In this article, I will present a classroom-based assessment plan as a useful tool to asses English as a foreign language to 5-6-year-old children. I will begin describing my assessment context, outlining why I believe authentic assessment is suitable to evaluate the youngest pupils. The second section will describe the particular characteristics of young language learners, crucial to know to design effectively my assessment. The analysis of the principles underlying my assessment will follow. Concluding comments will discuss the importance of authentic assessments in the learning process of teachers and learners despite some limitations.

The Chilean English-Teaching Context

 Since 1990, English is a compulsory subject, from the age of 10, in all Chilean schools (Barahona, 2016). Currently, the country is supporting the schools that want to start even earlier, offering them guidelines and textbooks to support English teachers’ work with learners from the age of 6-7. These methodology guidelines (MINEDUC, 2012) have varied from a traditional approach to a more communicative one, highlighting the importance of the four skills’ development, assessment’s recommendations to evaluate learners’ four skills are also presented. However, most of the assessment’s examples suggested lack authenticity and may be perceived by the children as unfamiliar and disconnected activities within their classrooms.

Since 2015, Kinder is the first year of compulsory education in Chile. A national holistic and play-based curriculum is followed in this level of education (MINEDUC, 2018), different from the one carried out in Primary Education. This curriculum considers the assessment as a formative instance that support learning, “assessment for learning” (Black and Wiliam, 1998:8) more than assessment of learning. The focus is located in the learning process. Teachers, together with the children, select and progressively construct evidence of these processes. The information is obtained in real, functional, and regular activities. This is why this kind of assessment is known as authentic assessment, an assessment in which the real situations in which children express their learning are strongly related to the performance to be assessed. Once enough evidence is gathered, teachers can state an evaluative conclusion about the children’s performance, considering the distance between what they are capable of doing and what the learning objectives raises. Based on these results, teachers make pedagogical decisions on how to improve their practices and thus, children’s learning. Each assessment is the starting point for a new learning experience.

For Kinder, there are no national guidelines offered by the Ministry of Education regarding English teaching and assessment. In spite of this, some schools, especially private ones, choose to teach English from the first years. The school, in where I will base my assessment, is a private school which follow a Dual System curriculum program in the Pre-kinder and Kinder levels (4-6 years old). This Program started in 2015 as a need to teach English to young learners through a more natural and integrative approach. The Dual curriculum is developed by two qualified teachers per class, one Early Years Teacher and one English Teacher with specialism in Early Years. English and Spanish are used in more less the same quantity each day. The curriculum and routines are developed in parallel in both languages and the assessment approach followed is based on authentic assessment task and procedures.

O’ Malley & Valdez (2009) define the term authentic assessment as “multiple forms of assessment that reflect students learning, achievement, motivation, and attitudes on instructionally-relevant classroom activities.” Under this definition, authentic assessments may be formative or summative, depending on the particular purpose sought. Formative assessment occurs regularly, as the learning process develops, sometimes unconsciously within the classroom (Brown, 2004). Its focus is to identify the learners’ main achievements and difficulties, and from there, generate strategies for their progress. It not only engages the child, but also challenges the teachers in their teaching (Baroudi, 2007). Conversely, summative assessment, which allows to verify the learning goals’ achievements (Douglas, 2010), usually coincide with other purposes, such as to inform others about their children’s achievements and make future decisions. Summative assessments have to be developed from a still authentic and formative perspective; pre-primary learners should not be assessed by paper and pencil testing because they may perceive this type of evaluation as unreal and unnatural. Sometimes, the conditions imposed to carried out this kind of test, such as external and unfamiliar examiners, may be intimidating to a child and, thereby, interfere on the learners’ performance. In addition, a single 30-minute test cannot reflect a holistic view of a child’s learning progress (Myers, 2013). Young children should not realise that there is a difference between the formative and summative assessments, if they do not identify any peremptory judgments and they feel the assessment activities as another step in their learning journey.

Performance assessment, portfolios, and student self-assessment are all examples of authentic assessments (O’ Malley & Valdez, 2009). Aschbacher & Winters, 1992 (as cited in O’ Malley & Valdez, 2009:10) state that in performance assessment learners should “accomplish complex and significant task, while bringing to bear prior knowledge, recent learning, and relevant skills to solve realistic or authentic problems”. Within this type of authentic assessment, it can be found: oral interviews, retelling of stories, writing task, teacher observations during learners’ engagement in different activities, etc. Douglas (2010) argues that portfolios are a systematic collection of student work that show the students’ involvement and performance in different activities. He distinguishes between showcase, progress and working portfolios. For this article, the focus will be on progress portfolio as its purpose is to show learning progress over long periods of time. Examples of portfolio entries may include: learners’ drawings; pictures taken by children or adults; comments of teachers, parents, and students; writing samples, etc.; regarding learning objectives. Children and their families should be involved in selecting samples of their own learning outside the classroom. Bagnato & Hsiang (2006) points out that authentic assessment can happen in informal, natural settings, therefore including experiences of spontaneous English use in the children’s real-life can provide a more accurate picture of the learners’ language knowledge. Finally, self-assessment is a crucial component in authentic assessment and it should be included in all the different assessment examples mentioned. Being able to comprehend what it is possible to improve in a future activity, based on the analysis of a finished task, is key in reaching meaningful learning.

Principles underlying my assessment plan and instruments

 This section will describe the particular characteristics of young language learners since understanding them is crucial to plan effectively language assessment tasks and procedures for this age group. The analysis of the underlying principles of my assessment plan will follow, grounded in principles and framework from young learner education and assessment, and form the general field of assessment

McKay (2006) organises the particular characteristics of young language students into three categories: growth, literacy, and vulnerability. Children are characterized by being in a constant physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth. Children’s physical growth at the age of 5-7 is defined by a rapid development of the gross and fine-motor skills. They are physically very active and enjoy playful activities implying lots of movement. They are also getting better at handling writing. However, they will get tired quickly of being sitting. At this age, learners “have a need to play and to engage in fantasy and fun” (McKay, 2006:10). Regarding the cognitive growth, children’s attention span is still very short, 10-15 minutes maximum. Children learn best by direct experiences, they need concrete materials to touch in order to learn. According to the emotional and social growth, children are gradually developing more social awareness. They are learning to take turns, cooperate, share roles which means that they may be able to work/play in small group tasks. Children need encouragement and positive reinforcement while doing an assessment task, the immediate feedback is key for maintaining attention and confidence.

One important characteristic of 5-7 learners is that they are learning literacy skills in their first language at the same time than the target language. Normally, children build on their oral language to learn to read and write. In the case of foreign language learners, they bring the literacy skills learnt in their first language to the foreign language, but “are dominated by a lack of oral knowledge of the foreign language” (McKay, 2006: 13). Therefore, offering young learners multiple English input is mandatory to support their oral abilities in their foreign language, and thus, their literacy abilities. Assessment tasks for early years students should consider written messages accompanying by images. Reading and writing development will depend on children’s fine-motor skills, ability to remember words and spelling, and to connect words in sentences and paragraphs. At the beginning, learners will combine drawing and writing to express ideas. Regarding speaking, young children will be able to talk about familiar topics such as home, family, and school.

Young learners’ assessment experiences should be enjoyable and offer a sense of success. They are particular vulnerable to bad assessment experiences as they are “heightened sensitivity to praise, criticism and approval and their self-esteem is strongly influenced by experiences at school” (McKay, 2006: 14). Children develop at different rhythms and times, students may progress very well in some areas, but not in others. Norm-referenced-assessment, which seek to determine how well a student perform compared to others who take the same evaluation, are not suitable for the youngest children. Criterion-referenced-assessment, aiming to determine if specific skills have been mastered, offer a much better view of young learners’ language learning. McKay (2006) suggests observation-based assessment to help teachers to identify the child’s developmental stage and from there, design an appropriate assessment task.

It is important to mention that the tasks and procedures selected for my assessment plan suit the growth, literacy, and vulnerability developmental characteristics of young learners mentioned above. They will challenge the children intellectually, are in line with the communicative curriculum taught (Farm animals unit) and will assess the most relevant abilities (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) for language use. In the next paragraph, I will demonstrate that the selected tasks are highly valid and reliable and will have a positive impact on the learners, offering them possibilities to show their best performance. The decisions to be made regarding children’s language abilities will be draw from many sources, not just from the tasks analysed here. Data will be collected from continues and different tasks embedded in the teaching context (like the examples shown in appendix 1-4), but also from a wider range of procedures such as observations, learning journals (progress portfolio), and self-assessment; as Brown and Hudson (1998) argue: using just one source of information to make a conclusion about a child’s achievement is not just useless, also dangerous and even foolish.

The following framework (adapted by McKay (2006) from Bachman and Palmer, (1996:49-50)) will guide a close analysis of the characteristics of the tasks selected (see appendix 1-4).

Analysis of Characteristics of Assessment Task 1-2.3-4

 

  TASK 1 TASK 2 TASK 3 TASK 4
 

 

 

Characteristics of the setting

– Children’s’ classroom.

-Children will be in group of 6, but the activity will be carried out individually.

-Teacher involved.

-Expected noise from other groups, but it should not affect the task.

-Children’s classroom.

-Individual activity at the beginning of the school day in the.

-Teacher and classmates involved.

-Children settle while listening to the volunteer presenter.

-Children’s classroom.

-Teacher involved.

-Children will be in group of 6, but the activity will be carried out individually.

 

-Children’s classroom.

-Game group activity.

-Teacher and classmates involved.

-Expected noise from other groups, but it should not affect the task

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristics of the assessment task procedures (rubrics)

-Teacher reads instructions in English and models what to do.

-Questions to check comprehension.

– One section.

-Suitable for most learners’ literacy development.

-Extra support provided if needed.

-15 minutes long.

-Not perceived as an evaluation.

-Teacher judgment of performance: observation, notes and worksheet analysis bases on rubric following the assessment criteria (appendix 1).

-Teacher explains instructions in English and models what to do.

– One section.

-Suitable for most learners. May be problems with shy students, teacher will ask for volunteers and the children, who are lees confident, can develop her self-assurance by looking at their peers succeeding.

-8 minutes long. No more than 2 children will present per day

-Perceived as an evaluation.

-Reference criteria known, self-evaluation, in L1 if needed, at the end.

-Sticker as a positive reinforcement.

-Teacher judgment of performance: observation, notes and rubric following the assessment criteria and the scoring (appendix 2).

-Teacher explains instructions in English and models what to do.

– One section.

-Suitable for most learners.

-15 minutes long.

-Not perceived as an evaluation.

-Teacher judgment of performance: observation, and video analysis bases on rubric following the assessment criteria (appendix 3).

 

-Teacher explains instructions in English and models what to do.

– One section.

-Ability to decode the graphemes into phonemes and blend the sounds into words to match the cards. -Extra support provided if needed.

-15 minutes long.

-Not perceived as an evaluation.

-Teacher judgment of performance: observation, notes and rubric following the assessment criteria (appendix 4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristics of the input

-Simple spoken English, with gestures, verbal stress, repetition, and modelling.

-Leaners are familiar with manner of presenting task.

-Vocabulary and literacy skills practiced for 4 weeks.

-Suitable for most learners’ literacy development.

-Personal, simple, and motivating topic.

-Simple spoken English, with visual support, and modelling.

-Revision of the performance criteria (in L1 if needed).

-Learners will do their presentation when they think they are ready.

-Personal, simple, and motivating topic.

-Simple spoken English, with gestures, verbal stress, repetition, and modelling.

-Leaners are familiar with the game.

-Vocabulary practiced for 4 weeks.

-Suitable for most learners’ development.

-Simple, and motivating topic.

-Simple spoken English, with gestures, verbal stress, repetition, and modelling.

-Leaners are familiar with the game.

-Vocabulary and literacy skills practiced for 4 weeks.

-Suitable for most learners’ literacy development.

-Simple, and motivating topic.

 

 

 

 

Characteristics of the expected response

-Leaners are familiar with manner of answering task.

-They will understand the teacher’s instruction and, in written, offer a simple word to describe their favourite animal.

-The topic of the response is personal, and within the learners’ developmental growth.

-Spelling mistakes and developing handwriting are expected.

-Leaners are familiar with oral presentations.

-They will orally describe their favourite animal farm.

-The topic of the response is personal, and within the learners’ developmental growth.

-Pronunciation mistakes are expected.

 

-Leaners are familiar with the game.

-They will listen and understand the teacher’s instruction and follow what she says.

-The topic of the response is within the learners’ developmental growth.

 

-Leaners are familiar with the game.

-They will listen and understand the teacher’s instruction and read CVC words and match them with its correct picture.

-The topic of the response is within the learners’ developmental growth.

 

 

 

 

 

Relationship between input and response

-One-off response to describe his favourite animal.

-Following responses built in the previous ones.

-Learners are expected to process the information needed based on the input received.

-Reciprocal response as teachers will ask two questions after the presentation.

-Following responses built in the previous ones.

-Learners are expected to process the information needed based on his/her own topical knowledge.

-One-off response following the teacher command

-Following responses built from simpler to more complex ones.

-Learners are expected to process the information needed based on the input received.

-One-off response reading the word properly and matching it with its correct picture.

-Learners are expected to process the information needed based on the input received.


The strongest element of these tasks is that they are responding to the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the leaners. Also, they are appropriate for the developing literacy stage in where these children are. In addition, they consider the different learning rhythms of learners being the teachers able to offer extra support when needed, thus all children can experience success when doing the tasks. The tasks are authentic. Task 1 help learners in the preparations of a future oral presentation (task 2) and because of this, it will have a positive impact on the children’s learning. Task 2 is also authentic as children will have plenty of oral presentation during their lives. Task 3 and 4 are authentic in the sense that are familiar games for the children outside the classroom. Finally, the assessments are measuring what they set out to measure. However, there are important aspect to be considered, in task 1 for example, as children will be doing the assessment task in groups, some quick responses from more confident students may influence other learners’ responses. Some children may be tempted to copy an answer from a classmate rather than putting effort in creating their own. In task 2, teachers will voluntarily invite the learners to perform the task, this could be fair for students who are shy and the success experience by some classmates will give them a push to perform their tasks, but may be very unfair for students who are confident and think they are ready (but not) and perform the task earlier than their classmates receiving less input affecting their performance. In task 3, again some children may copy others rather than listening to the teacher’s command; and in task 4, some children will use their memory to ‘read’ the word rather than decode it, in this case the task will be measure something different that for what it was planned. All of this aspect may be a threat to the validity of the tasks. To solve this, and other possible problems, is that the tasks presented are just some of the sources teachers will use as evidence for assessment decisions about the young leaners’ language ability.

Concluding comments

In this article, I presented the English Chilean context and discussed the principles in which my assessment plan was created. The reasons for choosing the particular assessment tasks and procedures were explained based on relevant literature in the field of young language learners’ education and assessment. The assessment was planned responding to the particular needs of learners aged 5-6, in Chile.

Through this process of reflection, I realised that the advantages of using authentic assessment are endless. Jalongo (2000, cited in McKay, 2006:99) summarised them saying that in authentic assessment:

“Students are active participants rather than passive subjects. Evaluation and guidance occur simultaneously and continuously. Processes as well as products are evaluated. Development and learning need to be recognized and celebrated. Multiple indicators and sources of evidence are collected over time. Results of the assessment are used to plan instruction, improve classroom practice, and optimize children’s learning. The assessment process is collaborative among parents, teachers, children, and other professionals as needed.”

As teachers we should start seeing authentic assessment tasks and procedures as a ‘useful’ (Bachman and Palmer, 1996) and integral part of our teaching. The major limitation of this kind of assessments is the time required to analyse the ‘usefulness’ of the tasks, collect the data and score the students’ performance (O’ Malley & Valdez, 2009). However, the framework of task characteristics presented here would be interesting to include in English-teacher-training workshops to support teachers in analysing the fairness of the tasks they are using and so, prevent bad decision causing disadvantages for learners. If teachers have chances to reflect carefully on their assessments, they will increasingly get a professional framework that will allow them to plan better assessment tasks without drawing time away from instruction.

REFERENCES

 Bachman, L. & Palmer, A. (1996). Language Testing in Practice: Designing and Developing Useful Language Tests. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barahona, M. (2016). Challenges and accomplishments of ELT at primary level in Chile: Towards the aspiration of becoming a bilingual country. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24 (82)

Baroudi, Z. (2007). Formative Assessment: Definition, Elements, and Role in Instructional Practice. Post-Script, 8(1), 37-48.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice5(1), 7-74.

Brown, J. D. & Hudson, T. (1998). The alternatives in language assessment. TESOL Quarterly32(4), 653-675.

Brown, H. (2004). Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices. New York: Pearson/Longman.

Douglas, D. (2000). Understanding Language Testing. London: Hodder Education.

Ghosn, I. (2013). Humanizing Teaching English to Young Learners with Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature in English Language Education Journal1(1), 39-57.

Bagnato, S. & Ho, H.Y. (2006). High-stakes testing with preschool children: Violation of professional standards for evidence-based practice in early childhood intervention. KEDI Journal of Educational Policy3(1) 23-43.

MacKay, P. (2006). Assessing Young Language Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McKay, P. (2009) Assessing Young Language Learners. ELT Journal, 63(1), 91–94.

MINEDUC Ministerio de Educación de Chile. (2012). Bases Curriculares y Programas de Estudios: Idioma Extranjero Inglés. Propuesta 1° básico. Retrieved from http://www.curriculumenlineamineduc.cl/605/articles-18984_programa.pdf

MINEDUC Ministerio de Educación de Chile. (2018). Bases Curriculares Educación Parvularia. Retrieved from https://parvularia.mineduc.cl/2018/03/06/descarga-las-bases-curriculares-la-educacion-parvularia-2018/

Myers, S. (2013). Authentic Assessment. Research Starters: Education.

Nunan, D. (2013).  Innovation in the Young learner classroom. In K. Hyland & L.C Wong. (Eds), Innovation and Change in English language education. London/ New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

O’Malley, J. M., & Pierce, L. V. (2009). Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners: Practical Approaches for Teachers. New York: Longman.

 

APPENDIX 1

TASK 1: EMERGENT WRITING SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT
SESSION 1 WEEK 4
Learners are divided in 5 groups of 6 children. Each group work on a particular teaching task related to animal farms. Children have been working on this topic for almost 4 weeks. This assessment task is one of the teaching tasks that the children will need to do. Children working in this group will be with the English teacher, the other teacher will supervise the other children while working/playing more independently.
Assessment Indicators:

 

The learners:

 

– Write his/her name.

– Write CVC words related to animal in the farm, such as bat, hen, cat, dog, cow, pig, rat, bug.

– Copy adjectives from flashcards regarding size and colours to describe animals, such as big/ small dog, brown cat.

– Describe animals; for example: large dog, brown cow.

 

TASK ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
Children write a draft about his favourite animal farm to prepare a future oral presentation. They need to include two characteristics of the animal (size and colour) and draw a picture according to its characteristics.

Children will receive a worksheet they will need to complete.

 

My favourite farm animal

 

Hello, my name is_________________.

My favourite animal is the __________.

It is ____________.

It is ____________.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Thanks for listening.

Aspects to be considered:

 

The learners:

 

– Write clearly their name.

– Write clearly their favourite animal.

– Describe the animal writing its size.

– Describe the animal writing its colour.

– Create a draw according to the written animal’s features.

 

APPENDIX 2

 

TASK 2: SPEAKING SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT
SESSIONS 1-2-3-4-5 WEEKS 5-7
Learners will perform this assessment task individually, at the beginning of the school day. Children will have plenty of time to prepare the presentation and will be invited to do the presentation on a voluntary basis. No more than 2 students will present per day.  .
Assessment Indicators:

 

The learners:

 

– Use vocabulary related to animals, such as bat, hen, cat, dog, cow, pig, rat, bug.

– Use adjectives regarding size and colours to describe animals, such as big/ small dog, brown cat.

– Use the word it to replace animals, objects, and clothing: it is large, it is blue.

– Describe animals; for example: large dog, brown cow.

– Answer questions from the teacher; for example: Where is …? What colour is it …? Do you have…? How many … do you have?

 

 

TASK ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
Children will make a brief oral presentation, in front of their classmates, about his favourite animal farm; they need to include two characteristics of the animal (size and colour) and use it as a replacement of the name of the animal. The presentation will call My favourite animal farm. For example:

My favourite animal is the mouse.

It is small.

It is white and grey.

 

Then they must answer two questions from the

teacher about animals.

For example:

Is it tall?

Do you have a …?

How many … do you have?

Where does it live?

Aspects to be considered:

 

The learners:

 

Mention clearly his/her favourite animal.

(1 point)

– Describe the animal according to its size.

(1 point)

– Describe the animal according to its colour.

(1 point)

– Use the pronoun it to replace the animal.

(1 point)

– Answer 2 questions correctly. (2 points)

– Use an adequate voice volume (teachers and classmates are able to listen to the presentation). (1 point)

– Use some visual material to support the presentation (picture, drawing, cuddly toy, etc)

(1 point)

 

 

APPENDIX 3

 

TASK 3: LISTENING SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT
SESSION 3 WEEK 4
6 children will be playing this game with the English teacher in the classroom, the other teacher will be supervising the other children while playing freely in the playground.
Assessment Indicators:

 

The learners:

 

– Listen and comprehend simple instructions.

– Identify listened vocabulary about animals.

– Recognise listened characteristics of animals regarding size and colours.

 

 

TASK ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
The teacher will invite the children to play Simon says…The children will have to pretend to be the animals the teacher says, representing their sizes and colours with pieces of coloured fabrics offered by the teachers.

For example:

The teacher will say: “Simon says: pretend to be a cat”, “Simon says: pretend to be a big cat”, “Simon says: pretend to be a black cat”, Simon says: go and find a dog”, Simon says: go and find a small dog”, Simon says: go and find a big brown dog.”

Aspects to be considered:

 

The learners:

 

Understand basic instructions.

– Follow basic instructions.

– Represent the listened animal according to its size.

– Represent the listened animal according to its colour.

– Find animals according to the characteristics mentioned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX 4

 

TASK 4: EMERGENT READING (PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS) SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT
SESSION 5 WEEK 4
Learners are divided in 6 groups of 5 children. Each group work on a particular teaching task related to animal farms. Children have been working on this topic for almost 4 weeks. This assessment task is one of the teaching tasks that children will need to do. Children working in this group will be with the English teacher, the other teacher will supervise the other children while working/playing more independently.
Assessment Indicators:

 

The learner:

 

– Listen and comprehend simple instructions.

– Verbally associates words with images.

– Name vocabulary words.

– Use vocabulary words in games.

– Associate phonemes to their correspondent graphemes.

– Blend sounds forming CVC words regarding animals.

– Segment CVC words in their respective sounds.

 

 

TASK ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
The teacher will invite the children to form groups of 4 and play a farm animals memory game. Children will have to match the word (dog) with its correspondent picture (a picture of a dog). When the word and the picture match, the child win and can have another go, if the word does not match with the picture, is the turn for another child. The child who gets more matching pairs will win the game

 

Aspects to be considered:

 

The learner:

 

Understand basic instructions.

– Follow basic instructions.

– Associate words with images.

– Name vocabulary words.

– Use vocabulary words in games.

– Associate phonemes to their correspondent graphemes.

– Blend sounds forming CVC words regarding animals.

– Segment CVC words in their respective sounds.

 

 

 

 

Publishing effective course materials for EIL

*Carrie Lewis

Abstract

This article considers some issues surrounding EIL from a publishers’ perspective; examining how the spread of English in different forms and contexts around the world presents practical problems for publishing. There will also be some consideration of how publishers can serve their diverse customers more effectively: building relationships between different English speaking cultures and showing equal respect to each English-speaking community.

Keywords: EIL, educational resources, publishers, ‘expanding circle’

Introduction

A large and increasing number of people, even if they never set foot in an English-speaking country, will be required to use English in increasingly sophisticated communication and collaboration with people around the world. They will need to be able to write persuasively, critically interpret and analyse information, and carry out complex negotiations and collaboration in English. (Warschauer, 2000, p.518)

This prediction, already true in a wide variety of contexts, defines the concept of EIL, or English as an International Language. EIL is the way that English language speaking has come to be defined by its presence and usage outside the countries in which it is the principal or official language. EIL commentators describe the increasing spread of English through Kachru’s “expanding circle” (1986, cited in Elham and Pishghadam) and point to the increasing ownership of English by these different groups as a reason to consider the teaching of English in a new way. Whereas traditionally, English teaching has been “taught as an inner-circle language, based almost exclusively on American or British English, and textbooks with characters and cultural topics from the English-speaking countries of the inner circle”, (Matusda, 2003, p. 719), EIL commentators argue that ELT teaching now needs to take into consideration the many different circumstances and global contexts in which English is used as a second language: for example between businesses in China and Scandinavia, or Japan and Nigeria. In this almost unimaginably diverse range of circumstances, not only the style of English but also the necessary content of the language may be different from that taught traditionally in ELT pedagogy.

Understandably, this change in the nature and ownership of English has led many to scrutinise the materials that are used for the teaching of English from an EIL perspective, and in many cases, from both a linguistic and a cultural point of view, materials seem to have been found wanting. My own professional context is as a content editor and sometimes writer of ELT materials and my experience in the field mainly involves the creation of ELT course books for primary-aged children in countries such as Egypt, Eastern Europe, China, Malaysia and South America. All of these publishing projects have been undertaken through well known British university publishers, according to specific briefings from the customer/teaching authority in the client countries. The articles that I have selected to review for this assignment focus on the interface between the developing area of EIL, the response and output of materials developers and also what academics are saying about this interface. My aim in doing this is to provide some insights into both how EIL might be better served by publishers and to explore how the topic as a whole is potentially confused by misperceptions and misunderstandings around the role and practices of publishers and materials developers. I have chosen to consider this interface in three sections, firstly looking at the issue of EIL as a linguistic ‘problem’; then considering the issue of ELT materials and how they culturally address EIL; and lastly I will briefly consider the issues of EIL, materials and language imperialism.

EIL: Which Englishes and how to present them?

The exposure to different forms and functions of English is crucial for EIL learners, who may use the language with speakers of an English variety other than American and British English. Even if one variety is selected as a dominant target model, an awareness of different varieties would help students develop a more comprehensive view of the English language.  (Matsuda, 2003, p.721)

Matsuda’s comments indicate the need for course materials as well as teaching methods that incorporate a range of varieties of English from the “outer circle” and “expanding circle” (Kachru, 1986, cited in Reza).

Elham and Pishghadam (2012, p.10) and Matsuda (2003, p.724) have further suggestions for how teaching materials might be improved along these lines, suggesting that materials include “dialogues in non-English speaking countries, non-native accents”. According to Elham and Pishghadam, in a detailed analysis of different teaching materials over time, the suitability of ELT materials for teaching EIL has improved as they have become more “multicultural” but there is still room for improvement, particularly with regards to representations of speakers’ pronunciation. Referencing Jenkins, (2000), Elham and Pishghadam say “if English is to achieve true integrity as an international language, it must acknowledge an international phonology” (2012, p.10).

Tomlinson (2005, p.6) also has a view of the EIL linguistic issues that need to be addressed. In his view, “over 65% of interactions in English are between non-native speakers … as a result, an international variety of English is already being evolved by the millions of non-native users of English who communicate with each other in English every day.” He goes on to suggest that this “international variety” is a legitimate target for study and examination, and would be a sensible focus for some published materials, “At the very least coursebooks in Asia could start to include texts written and spoken in effective International English, as well as those produced by native speakers, and examinations could start rewarding effective communication and stop penalising non-standard pronunciation and grammar which in no way impedes communication.”

Whilst these ideas are reasonable in many ways, particularly with regards to the acceptance of ‘non-standard’ pronunciation, from a materials perspective there are some practical problems with the notion of international English as a single “International variety”. In fact, international English includes a wide range of new and changing varieties of EIL: there could not be one “International variety” of English any more than there could be one version of any “inner-circle” English, indeed far less so. Whilst it might be possible and desirable to represent different accents and pronunciations, differences in word usage or nuance of meaning across varieties of English are much harder to capture, especially as they constantly change. Trying to represent several English varieties realistically in one published course could result in something that is linguistically very confusing for students. Also, without an established core of meaning, the English that is taught may become ineffective across cultures.

So, having accepted the nature and demands of EIL from a linguistic perspective, how could this practically be addressed in ELT materials? One solution, and one that is clearly evolving already, is to make use of the many online formats available to introduce a degree of localism into published ELT courses, whether these are introduced by a traditional “inner-circle” publisher with recourse to customer feedback, or via the provision of an editable format made available to the final user in the classroom or at home (Gray, 2004, Tajeddin and Teimournezhad, 2014), although this option does create work for the teacher/user. Another and more obvious solution is for each country or area to produce its own ELT materials. For course books that are targeted widely at a global market (although these seem to be increasingly a rarity), it should be possible to include a wider variety of accents and cultural environments as models for the learner, as suggested by Elham and Pishghadam (2012, p.10) and Tomlinson (2005, p.7) although there is always a danger for producers that this can appear tokenistic in practice.

As a counterpoint to the ideas above, it should be said that in all of the ELT publishing projects that I have participated, the publishing brief has been initiated in the target country (or client), usually by an education ministry but sometimes as a co-publication with a local publisher, so it could be said that the style of English and subject matter found in most ELT textbooks is often there by the request of the client rather than at the insistence of the “inner-circle” publisher. Publishers, who are after all service providers, are obliged to carry out the wishes of their customers rather than to follow the ideals of academic discourse regarding EIL. Sometimes, this muddies the waters of ‘ideal’ pedagogy, but to instruct customers on what they ‘should’ teach would rightly be regarded as somewhat patronising.

To summarise this section on “Which Englishes?”, publishers should certainly consider ways in which they can value and acknowledge EIL in a range of locations and create increased awareness of other pronunciations and dialects in real life, as this may create a greater sense of language democracy and speaker equality. There may, however, be problems for materials producers with regards to the specific variety of English chosen for the bulk of teaching, partly arising from customers’ demands but also from the complexity of varieties and rapidly changing nature of “expanding circle” Englishes.

ELT materials and cultural representation

Another issue that EIL commentators find problematic in ELT course materials is the representation (or lack of representation) of expanding or outer circle countries and cultures.

In language teaching, cultural imperialism includes the transmission of ideas about the culture of English-speaking countries occurring via textbooks, the choice of content etc. and entails the presentation of certain cultural stereotypes and values as universal and superior, while others are inferior either by omission or direct presentation. (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, cited in Elham and Pishghadam, p.3)

The narrowness and repetitive nature of the situations presented by ELT materials (holidays, jobs, travel etcetera), the general tendency to present western cultural values as the norm and that “they are … highly wrought cultural constructs and carriers of cultural messages”, (Gray, 2004, p.151) are all subjects of concern. Shin, Eslami and Chen’s study of seven textbook series (2011, p.1) supports this: “Our study showed that even though cultural aspects were proportionally diverse in each textbook series, inner circle cultural content still dominates most of the textbooks.” They refer, as a particular problem, to the fact that, “cultural presentation … does not engage learners in deep levels of reflection,” or in other words, cultural norms are presented unchallenged and without contrasting ideas. Gholami, Noordin and Rafin-Ghalea (2017, p.83) agree with this in their paper on textbook evaluation, saying that textbooks, “remain superficial in terms of coverage and are incapable of meeting the students’ miscellaneous and wide-ranging needs”.

Gray, (2004, p.161) remarks on the fact that the people shown in ELT materials come from a narrow range of backgrounds but are generally affluent, and seem to regard the accumulation of wealth and the spread of globalisation and of western culture as a desirable norm.  Several commentators (Elham/Pishghadam, 2012, Shin et al, 2011) comment on the prevalence of Western cultural icons such as Bill Gates at the expense of global figures, or those who would be more recognisable to a local audience. Elham and Pishghadam’s research comparing representations of culture over time makes this very clear (2012, pp.10-11).  Shin et al (2011, p. 256, citing Cortazzi and Jin) suggest three kinds of cultural representation that could be present in textbooks: Cortazzi and Jin (1999) believe that the cultural features that can be used in ELT textbooks are of three types: “‘source culture materials’ that use students’ native cultural artefacts as content, ‘target culture materials’ that include the cultures of English speaking countries (mostly Western countries), and ‘international materials’ that embrace diverse cultures from around the world.” Shin et al (2011, p.256) urge publishers to move towards a representation of “global culture”, although do not entirely specify what this might look like. Tajeddin and Teimournezhad (2014, p.181) go even further than other commentators by suggesting “hidden agendas” in materials: implying that the aim of some materials is one of covert, but deliberate, opinion-forming. Although Tajeddin and Teimournezhad’s views are probably only substantiated in a small percentage of publications, there is enough evidence behind this body of opinion to make it clear that publishers do owe it to their customers to give a wider variety of cultural representation.

Gray, (2004, p.157) makes mild criticism of course materials that have been homogenized “so as not to offend the perceived sensibilities of potential buyers and readers”. In saying this, he may have underestimated the complexity of the ELT market from a political and ideological point of view. Gray’s own ‘end-user’ examples and comments from teachers about cultural content are mainly drawn from Spain (2004, p.151), which would be considered by most publishers to be at the most politically liberal and ‘westernized’ end of the scale of ELT consumers and therefore less likely to have issues with different portrayals of gender roles or politically and religiously sensitive topics. He describes the way that, “all ELT publishers provide their coursebook writers with sets of guidelines with regard to content”. This is true, although in the current publishing environment the list of cultural guidelines that ELT publishers work to originates with the customer. Gray describes the list of proscriptions that he has seen publishers work with, but he views the use of such proscriptions as commercially opportunistic, “the teachers in the study showed that they were aware that coursebook content was partly determined by the publishers’ need to maximize sales”. In reality, the failure by publishers to adhere to the proscriptions placed on them by their customers is commercially suicidal. Gray’s commentary also appears to represent commercial enterprise and educationally legitimate content as somewhat mutually exclusive, but in my own experience they can go together. Most ELT publishers at the editorial level (many of whom are teachers) are sincerely concerned with the production of quality, useful materials and aim to be responsive to the needs and values of their customers, whilst being mindful of the fact that products must also be commercially viable.

From a publishing perspective, there is also an issue around cultural respect. Publishers, on the whole, do not consider their role as being to challenge the moral values of the countries to which they export, however different or similar they might be to their own. Interestingly, whilst criticising publishers for their willingness to export western culture in the form of globalization, Gray conversely criticises publishers for failing to export western moral values with regards to the way sexuality is represented in coursebooks, (2004, p. 160).

EIL and linguistic imperialism

Tomlinson (2005, p.6) asserts that the perceived resistance of publishers (among other ELT influencers) to produce materials supportive of EIL indicates a habit of linguistic imperialism that is not in keeping with the current needs of the EIL market. Matsuda goes one step further than this and contends that an EIL syllabus must include some mention of the politics of English teaching as an imperialistic issue.

The History and Politics of an English inner-circle-based curriculum fails to open the topics of the history and politics of the English language around the world. A curriculum that teaches EIL, in contrast, must address the colonial past (and, possibly , the postcolonial present) of the language and the power inequality associated with its history … Without the awareness of such potential power struggles associated with EIL, learners may internalize a colonialistic view of the world (Pennycook, 1998) and devalue their own status in international communication. (Matsuda, 2003, p.722)

Mckay to some extent disputes this view in a modern context.

…to assume that the active promotion of English is the primary cause of the current interest of many to learn English as an additional language is to oversimplify the complexity of the spread of English. Many individuals learn English not because English is promoted by English-speaking countries, but rather because these individuals want access to scientific and technological information, international organizations, global economic trade, and higher education. (2003, p.1).

Conversation with fellow ELT students who are experienced teachers from the Asia and South America would tend to support Mckay’s view. Matsuda’s words, “learners may internalize a colonialistic view of the world”, open up a vision of almost unfathomable unconscious absorption of Western culture and ideas which have filtered in through the language: imbuing learners with a set of values they have never actively chosen. Whilst this is an uncomfortable idea for native English speakers and teachers, there is undoubtedly some truth in it. In countries such as Malaysia or parts of China, English speaking has come to be seen not only as a skill but as a sign of prestige or superiority. Producers of ELT materials can only be concerned by their complicity in this process. As McKay indicates above, however, global English speaking has taken on a life of its own, and the internet makes English language more prevalent than ever before. No one has the right to tell anyone how or why they should, or should not, be learning English. The ‘new’ English speakers of the outer and expanding circles now own English in their own right and shouldn’t be told what or how to learn, least of all by their old imperial overlords. There is a painful irony in the fact that the countries that exported English are the same countries telling the “expanding circle” that they shouldn’t necessarily want it.

Still more ironically, now that new markets can make English their own, as Tomlinson points out (2005, p. 6) they often still continue to follow a ‘native speaker’ programme, although this often leads to a “failure to get even close to a standard that is neither necessary for international communication nor attainable without sustained exposure to it”.

Conclusion

Although the phenomenon of EIL has provoked a great deal of discussion around appropriate pedagogy and the provision of materials, there is perhaps still a lack of definition around what a truly EIL course book would contain from a linguistic point of view, and what the real market for it is. Many ELT educators around the world still favour the idea of learning ‘native-speaker’ English and many also prefer the appeal of the ‘local’ over the ‘global’, in reality rejecting a range of cultural representation in favour of just seeing their own. There is also, from a practical point of view, some advantage to the idea of maintaining a linguistic ‘core’ of English in order to maintain genuine comprehension across cultures, rather than engaging in potentially endless diffraction of meaning.

Within the context of the articles referenced in this assignment, (Gray, p.166) it is sometimes possible to discern that some academics do not understand the responsive nature of the relationship between publishers and ELT customers, believing publishers to be the influencers of customers’ opinions. In fact, although there are English syllabi in place around the world which have been produced by British publishers, most British publishers, through new products and updates to old ones, now adapt their publishing to suit the demands of ELT consumers, whatever these demands may be. The developing market is increasingly accommodated by negotiation, approval and comment at every stage of a course book’s development. The power relationship that may once have existed between “inner circle” publishers and “outer circle” teachers is largely a thing of the past.

 

References

Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. (1999). ‘Cultural mirrors materials and methods in the EFL classroom’. In E. Hinkel (Ed.). Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Cambridge, CUP

Elham, N. M. and Pishghadam, R. (2012) ‘Analysis of English language textbooks in the light of English as an International Language (EIL): A comparative study’ in International Journal of Research Studies in Language Learning Vol. 2. No. 2

Gholami, R. Noordin, N and Rafik-Ghalea, S. (2017) ‘A Thorough Scrutiny of ELT Textbook Evaluations: A Review Inquiry’, International Journal of Education and Language Studies Vol. 5 Issue 3.

Gray, J. (2004) ‘The global coursebook in English Language Teaching’ in D. Block; D. Cameron (Eds) The Handbook of Language and Globalization, London, Routledge

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford, OUP.

Kachru, B. B. (1986). The Alchemy of English: The Spread Functions and Models of Non-native Englishes. Oxford, Pergamon.

Matsuda, A. (2003) ‘Incorporating World Englishes in Teaching English as an International Language’, TESOL Quarterly, Vol 37, No. 4

McKay, S. L (2003) ‘Toward an appropriate EIL pedagogy: re-examining common ELT assumptions’ International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol. 13, No. 1

Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. (2002). Dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics (3rd ed.). UK, Pearson Education.

Shin, J., Eslami, Z.R. and Chen, W. (2011) ‘Presentation of local and international culture in current international English-language teaching textbooks’, Language, Culture and Curriculum Vol. 14, No. 3.

Tajeddin, Z., Teimournezhad, S., (2014), ‘Exploring the hidden agenda in the representation of culture in international and localised ELT textbooks’, The Language Learning Journal, Vol. 42, No. 2.

Tomlinson, B. (2005), ‘The Future for ELT Materials in Asia’ Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching Vol. 2 No. 2

Warschauer, M. (2000), ‘The Changing Global Economy and the Future of English Teaching’,  in TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 34 No. 3

 

Carrie Lewis studied at Leeds University. She is an experienced editor and writer of educational materials including ELT course books, audio and online resources.

Self-Access Learning Centres in developing learner autonomy: attitudes of students from the Department of English, University of Dhaka

 *Apala Biswas

Abstract

In many educational institutions a Self- Access Learning Centre (SALC) performs a major role in conducting self-regulated learning. The Department of English, University of Dhaka has a Self-Access Learning Centre which is called the Centre for English Teaching and Research (CETR). This article is based on the research study which aimed to find out whether this CETR helps the students to be autonomous learners according to the perceptions of the students. It also attempted to find out the difficulties students face while working at the CETR and the suggestions to improve the centre. The participants in this quantitative study were 30 undergraduate students from the Department of English, University of Dhaka. They were served identical questionnaires consisting of 5 point Likert-type questions and open-ended questions. The findings of the study show that students have a positive attitude towards the self-access centre and in their opinion; it helps them to become self-regulated learners. This study also suggests that a trained instructor helps the students with the materials at CETR.

Keywords: Self-access learning centre (SALC), learner autonomy, self-study materials and resources.

Introduction                                                                                           

Self-access learning is a comparatively new concept in recent years, but now many universities and other educational institutions are providing opportunities for students to go to a self-access centre and use the resources. According to Cotterall and Reinders (2001, cited in Edes, 2007)), a number of resources (in the form of materials, activities and support) are found in a self-access centre; it benefits learners of different levels, goals and interests and it promotes learner autonomy. Autonomous learning or self-directed learning is the type of learning where the learner is fully responsible for their learning. The learners themselves choose the materials and evaluate their learning progress. Benson (1996) emphasised the fact that to achieve the goals of learner autonomy and self-direction, self-access is a necessary environment.

There is a self-access learning centre named Centre for English Teaching and Research (CETR) under the Department of English, University of Dhaka. This centre is a computer lab where various online learning materials can be accessed. In this SALC, students can work on their own to develop their skills and facilitate their learning. As the SALC plays a role of pivotal importance in building learner autonomy, it is highly necessary to find out whether this centre is actually promoting self-regulated learning or not. If the attitudes of students regarding these factors remain unknown, further development of this centre could be hampered.

The purpose of my research was to examine what the students think regarding the effectiveness of the Self Access Learning Centre for autonomous learning and to discover why they actually go to the CETR. It also intended to find out what difficulties students face while working at the CETR and if they have any suggestions regarding them. This article focuses on the main findings of my study.

To fulfill the research purposes this study presents three research questions:

  1. For what purposes and how often do the Dhaka University English Department students go to the Centre for English Teaching and Research (CETR)?

2.  What are their major attitudes towards SALC and CETR promoting self-regulated                 learning?

  1. What difficulties do they face while working at the CETR and what are their suggestions to make the centre more developed?

Literature Review

This section is divided into three parts. In the first part, the concept of the self-access learning centre is discussed. The second part deals with the concept of self-regulated learning and the third part focuses on several relevant research studies.

Self- Access Learning Centre (SALC)

In a self-access centre, self-study materials and facilities of self-regulated learning are provided. Sturtridge (1992, cited in Nayos & Chuaychoowong, 2017) defines Self Access Centre (SAC) as a system where materials are available to the learners and they are free to work on their own without any teacher guidance or with a limited teacher support. Sheerin (1991, cited in Nayos & Chuaychoowong, 2017), defined SAC as materials designed and organized for students and providing them scope to work on their own. SACs and the Self-Access Language Learning Centres(SALLC) are related to self-access language learning or SALL. Self-Access Centre (SAC) or Self-Access Learning Centre (SALC) are different names for SALLC.

Self-Regulated or Autonomous Learning

A self-directed or autonomous learner sets appropriate learning goals, makes decisions accordingly and takes charge of his or her own learning. Hedge (2000) explained that “A self-directed learner is one who is self-motivated, one who takes the initiative, one who has a clear idea of what he wants to learn, and one who has his own plans for pursuing and achieving his goal.” Self-directed learners take initiative and make decisions related to their learning (Reinders 2000, cited in Javdani, Mahboudi, Ghafoori& Abdullah, 2011).

Through SALCs the students can practically get the notion of autonomy and independence and thus both the terms ‘self-access language learning’ and ‘autonomous language learning’ have become synonymous now. (Benson and Voller, 1997, cited in Javdani, Mahboudi, Ghafoori& Abdullah, 2011)

Relevant Studies

Many previous research studies have explored students’ attitudes, perceptions, and motivations towards self-access language learning and self-access language centres. Abidin, Mohammadi, Wongchana, and Yee (2012) studied Thai students’ motivation levels and attitudes towards the use of materials and facilities in a SALC. The study indicated that the resources at the SALC could motivate the learners for future learning.

A study by Javdani et al. (2011) studied the attitude of Iranian English for Specific Purposes students towards the role of self-access language learning centres in improving their reading comprehension. The students were highly motivated and satisfied using the resources.

Salvia (2000) conducted research on a model for the integration of a self-access system in a language learning institution. The purpose of this study was to facilitate self-regulated learning through a SALC. Salvia suggested that necessary learning materials and equipments and trained staff should be provided in a self-access centre.

Methodology Samples

The participants were 30 undergraduate students from the Department of English at the University of Dhaka. They were conveniently sampled to make sure that they all use the services at CETR. All the participants belonged to the age group of 18-25.

Instrument

The instrument for the study was a 5-point Likert scale questionnaire with four sections. The first section consisted of three questions regarding how often students go to the CETR, what materials they use and how useful the materials are. Section two contained five statements about the students’ general attitudes towards the SALC and section three contained twenty statements regarding students’ attitudes toward using the CETR and if the centre helps to promote self- regulated learning. The fourth portion contained two open-ended questions regarding the difficulties of using the resources in the CETR and suggestions made by the participants to improve the CETR.

The 25 statements were designed on a five-point Likert scale and the response options were from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The participants were asked to tick the box which matched their opinions. The responses were rated as strongly agree=5, Agree=4, Neutral=3, Disagree=2, strongly Disagree=1.

Data analysis

The data generated from the questionnaire were analyzed using the software Microsoft office Excel 2007. Descriptive statistics were calculated to find out the general tendencies and the spread of scores in data.

Results

The first part of the questionnaire deals with the students’ visit to CETR and the materials used by them. From the responses of the first section of the questionnaire, it is seen that 43% of the participants use the facilities of the CETR a few times, 33% use them sometimes, and 17% use the centre once or twice a week. Most of the participants are not familiar with all the facilities provided by the CETR.

Educational YouTube videos, online journals and other reading materials are the most used materials in the CETR. Computer programmes, audio and video tapes are used a few times. One participant mentioned that printing facilities provided by the CETR are also very helpful.

The next question deals with the issue the usefulness of the facilities provided by the CETR. Of those who use them, 44% of the participants have found the materials in the CETR very useful in their learning. 33% of the participants think that the materials are often useful. The materials are sometimes useful for 20% students while 3% think that the materials are hardly useful.
The second section of the questionnaire attempted to find out the general attitude of the learners towards self-access learning centres. Table 1 illustrates the descriptive analysis of participants’ attitude towards using the SALC.

Table 1: General attitude of the learners towards using SALC

Statements Strongly Agree Agree Not Sure Disagree Strongly Disagree Mean SD
1.   I think working in the SALC is useful to learn English 23% 67% 7% 0% 3% 4.06 0.784
2.   It is important to have the facility of learning by myself. 30% 47% 23% 0% 0% 4.06 0.739
3.   When working at SALC I decide to do things myself rather than following teacher guidelines. 7% 23% 23% 43% 3% 2.86 1.0416
4.   Learning at a self-access centre is as beneficial as classroom learning. 3% 30% 37% 27% 3% 3.0333 0.927
5.   I feel motivated about learning when I am at the SALC. 3% 73% 13% 7% 3% 3.6667 0.802

Table 1 demonstrates that learners have positive attitudes about learning in the SALC. 90% (the aggregated result of ‘agree’ and ‘strongly agree’) of the participants agreed that working in the SALC is useful for learning English and  77% (the aggregated result of ‘agree’ and ‘strongly agree’)  of them agreed with the fact that the opportunity for self-conducted learning is important.  The means for these statements are the same: 4.07. 76% (the aggregated result of ‘agree’ and ‘strongly agree) also agreed that working in the SALC motivates them (M= 3.67). But in item 3, 46% (the aggregated result of ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’) of the students have expressed their opinion that teacher guidelines are much more important than taking decisions themselves (M= 2.87).

Section three comprises of statements regarding the usefulness of the CETR and its effect on developing autonomous learning. Table 2 deals with the data which focuses on students’ perspectives about the Centre for English Teaching and Research (CETR) at the Department of English, University of Dhaka. This section also focuses on whether the CETR promotes learner autonomy.

Table 2: Perspective about developing skills through CETR

Statements Strongly Agree Agree Not Sure Disagree Strongly Disagree Mean SD
6.        I know how to use all the facilities at CETR. 10% 27% 13% 43% 7% 2.9 1.184
7.        Our introduction to the CETR was helpful. 10% 53% 30% 3% 3% 3.63 0.850
8.        Working at CETR helps me to improve my reading. 10% 70% 17% 0% 3% 3.83 0.746
9.        Working at CETR helps me to improve my writing. 7% 60% 23% 7% 3% 3.6 0.855
10.     Working at CETR helps me to improve my listening. 7% 57% 13% 20% 3% 3.43 1.006
11.     Working at CETR helps me to improve my speaking. 7% 50% 20% 20% 3% 3.36 0.999
12.     Working at CETR helps me to improve my vocabulary. 7% 60% 23% 7% 3% 3.6 0.855
13.     Working at CETR helps me to improve my grammar. 7% 47% 40% 3% 3% 3.5 0.820

Table 2 shows that 80% of participants (the total of strongly agree and agree) agreed that the CETR helped them to improve their reading skills while another 67% said their writing was improved. A substantial number (64%) believe that their listening improved while working at CETR while 23% disagreed with the statement. They also think their other skills developed through CETR. The most important finding in this section is that 50% of the participants do not know how to use all the facilities at CETR.

There were 12 items in the questionnaire to find out participants’ attitudes toward the use of the CETR in self-directed language learning. The following table describes the statistics for these statements.

Table 3: Attitudes towards CETR promoting self-regulated learning

Statements Strongly Agree Agree Not Sure Disagree Strongly Disagree Mean SD
14.       While working at CETR, I do not need teacher’s guidelines. 0% 13% 23% 57% 7% 2.43 0.817
15.       There are sufficient materials in CETR to conduct learning on my own. 3% 27% 37% 33% 0% 3 0.8709
16.       I am aware of the activities which I am doing at CETR. 3% 57% 30% 10% 0% 3.53 0.730
17.       I can find right materials on my own. 10% 57% 20% 13% 0% 3.63 0.850
18.       I can evaluate my learning progress. 0% 70% 20% 7% 3% 3.56 0.773
19.       I feel enthusiastic about using the materials in CETR. 7% 57% 20% 13% 3% 3.5 0.937
20.       I think Learning at the CETR will be helpful for my learning in future. 20% 70% 7% 0% 3% 4.03 0.764
21.       I know my learning goals while working at the CETR 7% 57% 20% 10% 7% 3.46 1.008
22.       While working at the CETR, I can monitor my learning progress 3% 50% 27% 17% 3% 3.33 0.922
23.       I am less frightened about making mistakes. 10% 40% 10% 33% 7% 3.13 1.195
24.     Finding the right materials in the CETR is difficult when I am doing it myself. 10% 43% 17% 30% 0% 3.33 1.028
25.     I think it would be helpful if there was someone in CETR to help and instruct us. 23% 60% 10% 3% 3% 3.96 0.889

Table 3 shows that most of the participants agreed that the CETR can promote self-regulated learning. 60% (the aggregated result of agree and strongly agree)of the participants were aware of their learning and 67% were able to choose the right materials. They also feel motivated and 90%of them thought that learning at CETR helps them learning in future. The table also demonstrates that most of the participants were able to monitor and evaluate their learning progress and they were less anxious because they were not monitored. However,the responses in items 24 and 25 clearly demonstrate that the learners were not knowledgeable about how to use all the facilities in the CETR and they preferred teacher guidelines. For instance, in item 24, 53% (the aggregated result of ‘agree’ and ‘strongly agree’) of the students agreed that finding the right materials was often difficult when they did it alone.

The fourth section of the questionnaire dealt with the difficulties that students faced and some suggestions from them about further improvement of the CETR. Most of the participants said that there were problems with the Wi-Fi connection, Wi-Fi sometimes was not accessible and passwords were not provided when asked for. Besides, according to them, many of the computers are broken or too old. Sometimes several useful websites are blocked from the server. The flash drive ports are also disabled, so they cannot transfer necessary files directly from the computers. Many of the participants are not sure how to access specific websites. Being in line with the last statement of the close-ended section, one of the participants said, “If there would be a skilled instructor to help the students, it would be quite helpful as often we face problems while working there, such as working on PowerPoint.”

The participants suggested that there should be more advanced computers and free accessible Wi-Fi provided. It is also suggested by them that several journal sites like JSTOR should have an open account for the lab so that the students can easily gain access to the required articles easily. Besides, in their opinion, more information should be provided about the CETR so that more students get motivated to go there. A trained instructor is also needed to guide the learners.

Discussion on findings

The findings show that students do not use the resources at the CETR regularly. Nevertheless, those who use them find it useful for learning. Students have a positive attitude towards SALCs and the CETR. Language skills can be developed by the resources available at CETR but many of the facilities are still unknown to them.

In self-regulated learning, the learner takes responsibility for his or her own learning, chooses his or her own materials and evaluates his or her own progress. From the responses it is evident that while working at the CETR students are well aware of their learning. As they are working on their own and looking for materials for learning they are taking charge of their learning.When they take charge of their learning they become more motivated and less frightened about learning. In this process, they are able to monitor and self-evaluate their progress and thus reach to the goal which they set up on their own.

However, it is found that they prefer the instructions of a teacher or guide while working at the centre. The students think that the CETR is helping them to improve their language skills, but they often find difficulty while working on their own. This can be interpreted in two ways. Though the learners are motivated to learn autonomously, they prefer a facilitator. This finding can also be connected to Vygotsky’s (1978) social learning theory. According to this theory, social interaction is the basis of cognitive development. Through interaction, a child learns new things. This social learning proceeds with the help of a more knowledgeable other, this can be a teacher, or parents, or friends. In this finding, the required trained instructor can be considered as the ‘more knowledgeable other’ who helps the learners to promote self- regulated learning.

The findings also demonstrate some practical issues regarding the CETR. The computers are old and there is often slow internet connection. Many websites are blocked and students do not get access to their required information. They made a few suggestions about the improvement of CETR. Most of the participants talked about a trained instructor, an instructor or guide who can help the students to use the facilities properly. The introduction of the CETR to the students should be improved, because then more students will be motivated to use the resources and benefits of the centre. More study materials should be added. One participant suggested that if there is special access to educational websites, there should be a list along with the instructions provided. Sometimes the URL address of YouTube and other materials is blocked. The freedom of using CETR materials should be ensured.

Limitations

This research is based on a small number of participants and the same institution. If more participants from different age groups and different universities could be included, the reliability and validity of this research could be increased. Besides, this research does not talk about other aspects of the self-access learning centre or the teachers’ perspectives about promoting learner autonomy through the SALC. Further research can be done in this field to explore whether the SALC impacts the students’ learning in other ways, and the teachers’ role in this process.

Conclusion and implications

A self-access learning centre can be considered as an important tool to make learners independent. Materials and resources are organized in the centre according to the convenience of our students. In the self-access learning centre, students take responsibility into their own hands. The findings of this study demonstrated that a self-access learning centre can actually promote autonomous learning. The resources at the CETR highly motivate the students to conduct autonomous learning; they can choose materials on their own and evaluate their progress. Their language skills are also improved through using the resources. This study also deals with the problems the students face at the CETR and their suggestions to overcome them.

The findings of this research can benefit teachers and the respective university department. Teachers can engage students in more and more activities outside the classroom and help them to be autonomous learners. The authority can take the suggestions made by the students into consideration and implement necessary changes to improve the centre.

References:

Abidin, M. J. Z., Pour-Mohammadi, M. P., Wongchana, K., & Yee, K. M. (2012). Students’

Motivation for and Attitudes towards Self-Access Language Learning Center. Journal of Education and Practice.3(3). 69-75. Retrieved on 27 November 2017 from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mohamad_Jafre/publication/267706706_Students%27_Motivation_for_and_Attitudes_towards_Self-Access_Language_Learning_Centre/links/566370f508ae418a786bb1b8/Students-Motivation-for-and-Attitudes-towards-Self-Access-Language-Learning-Centre.pdf?origin=publication_list

Benson, P. (1996). Concepts of Autonomy in Language Learning. In R. Pemberton et al. (Eds.),          Taking control: Autonomy inlanguage learning. (pp. 27-34). Hong Kong: Hong KongUniversity Press.

Édes, Cs. (2007). Teachers’ Perceptions of Their Role in Self-Access Language Learning in Two Hungarian Secondary Schools. In J. Horváth& M. Nikolov (Eds.), UPRT 2007: Empirical studies in English applied linguistics. Retrieved on 27 November 2017 from:  http://app.pte.hu/uprt2007/07_Edes.pdf

Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and learning in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford University  Press

Jadvani, F. , Mahboudi, H.R., Ghafoori, N. & Abdullah, A.BT. (2011). EFL Students’ Attitudes towards Self-Access Language Learning Centers (SALC): The Case of Iranian ESP Students. The Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(2). 64-96. Retrieved on 27 November 2017 from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hamidreza_Mahboudi/publication/309762394_EFL_Students%27_Attitudes_towards_Self-Access_Language_Learning_Centers_SALC_The_Case_of_Iranian_ESP_Students/links/595d3da70f7e9b3aefadef35/EFL-Students-Attitudes-towards-Self-Access-Language-Learning-Centers-SALC-The-Case-of-Iranian-ESP-Students.pdf

Nayos, S. &Chuaychoowong, M. (2017).  Thai Students’ Perceptions towards Self-Study and the Use of a Self-Access Language Learning Center. MFU Connexion, 6(2). 243- 268. Retrieved on 22 November 2017 from: http://connexion.mfu.ac.th/2015/ejournal/Vol.6%20No.1%202017/11Thai%20Students%20Perceptions%20towards%20Self%20Study.pdf

Salvia, O. S., (2000) Integrating a Self-Access System in a Language Learning Institution: A Model for Implementation. Links & Letters. 7. 95-109. Retrieved on 22 November 2017 from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/messages/downloadsexceeded.html

 

( Apala Biswas  has completed her graduation from the Department of English, University of Dhaka. She has also obtained her Masters degree in Applied Linguistics and ELT from the same department. She has interests in teaching methods, teacher education, syllabus and material design, testing, assessment and evaluation etc. Her profound interest lies in the vast research field of teaching and learning pedagogy. )

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Twelfth Issue of The Warwick ELT!

We are very excited to present the twelfth issue of The Warwick ELT E-zine. In keeping with previous issues of ‘The Warwick ELT’, the February to March issue presents articles from contributors who come from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Each contributor presents their unique voice, providing an insight into their own individual and contextualised experience. This issue comprises four articles. Three of the articles are from MA students from the Centre for Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. One article comes from a Lecturer at East West University, Dhaka, Bangladesh and the other from two ELT practitioners in Brazil. In her paper, Analysing Teacher Feedback: Types of Feedback and the Effects on Students’ Learning, Alexandra Pang examines how teacher talk is used as scaffolding to help learners develop within their Zone of Proximal Development. Cynthia M Chindipha from Zimbabwe in a paper titled Culturally Relevant Materials in the English Language Classroom looks at how English L2 learners culture (respectively) is represented in ELT materials. Vian Yuen focuses on language policy, attitudes and identity in Hong Kong in her article.  A captivating and unique way of using comic strips for teaching young learners in Brazil is presented in an article titled English through comic strips: a report of how Brazilian fifth graders appropriated an additional language by Andre Trindade Fonseca and Pedro Francisco Reis. Lastly, Sabbir Ahmed in his article gives us Some Practical Tips to Teach Grammar in Graduate Level EFL Classrooms.

It is our sincere hope that this month’s contributions will be of benefit to those who read them, helping them to gain further insights into a number of important topics within English Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. We sincerely welcome any comments which the content of the e-zine may inspire, in the hope that they might lead to open academic debate.

Finally, we would like to thank all of those whose effort has gone into the creation of this edition of the e-zine.

Editors,

Chindipha Cynthia M, Berrios Ortega Nicole and Begibaeva Nilufar

(February – March Issue)

For ease of access, each of the articles can be found hyperlinked below:

  1. Alexandra Pang – Analysing Teacher Feedback: Types of Feedback and the Effects on Students’ Learning
  2. Cynthia M Chindipha – Culturally Relevant Materials in the English Language Classroom
  3. Vian Yuen – Language policy, Language Attitudes and Identity in Hong Kong
  4. Andre Trindade Fonseca and Pedro Francisco Reis – English through comic strips: a report of how Brazilian fifth graders appropriated an additional language
  5. Sabbir Ahmed – Some Practical Tips to Teach Grammar in Graduate Level EFL Classrooms.