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Breda Matthews's blogs

  • People often ask for a recommendation to a test to determine students' ELLP level. Sadly there is no 'one test to bind them all' so to speak! People use a wide variety of both formal and informal tools to determine ELLP scores. Furthermore there are almost no commercial assessment tools that are normed for use with students in our context.
    Continuing students at a school will have a body of work, in ESOL and other subjects, that can be used to determine ELLP levels and it is good practice to involve mainstream teachers in making judgements about ELLP levels. 
    Whilst it is not best practice to assess students within a short time of arrival, it is sadly sometimes unavoidable. Judgements for newly arrived students often have to be made using observation and assessments in ESOL classrooms. Such assessments might include:

    a writing sample - referenced against ELLP

    reading assessments - teachers can assess comprehension and , if necessary, decoding. Reading assessments might include

    • clozes - sometimes these are based on ELLP texts, see the cloze tests by Linda Todd at the bottom of this page 
    • commercial comprehension tests

    a speaking assessment - often a short interview which will also enable you to find out about the student's learning background listening assessments - examples might include

    • dictations
    • listen and draw activities

    assessment of vocabulary knowledge- refer to Julie's list below for some examples of these

    In addition with Foundation students you may want to assess alphabet knowledge and letter sound correspondence.
    The ESOL Online Teachers Resource Exchange contains Julie Luxton's excellent Assessment for English Language Learners: Some Options for Placement, Diagnosis and Funding which is a comprehensive list of the available assessment resources for initial and diagnostic assessment.
    The ESOL Progress Assessment Guidlines outlines some of the standardised assessment tools but it is very important to determine your purpose before selecting an assessment tool for example asking a students to read a text aloud will tell you little about reading comprehension.
    Once you have gathered the data from the assessments you then need to return the the ELLP matrices. Placing students on the ELLP matrices requires taking a best fit approach and making an overall teacher judgement. The videos in the ELLP professional support modules give examples of teachers doing just that and are well worth watching again.

    Getting started with Google Apps


    Last week I was privileged to attend a workshop run by Petronella Townsend and Simon Crosby of the UC Education Plus team.  It was great working with so many enthusiastic and dedicated teachers, to share ideas and reflect on improving how we teach.


    One thing I have noted is the number schools moving to using Google Apps. This can be daunting at first but essentially, if you can use Microsoft Office, you have the skill sets to use Google Apps. 


    • Word             = Google docs
    • Excell            = Google spreadsheets
    • Powerpoint    = Google Presentations

    There is also Google Drawing and Google Forms but more on these later.

    So I thought I would share some tutorials that helped me in my digital learning journey.
    This first video is an overview of Google Drive. It is particularly good at showing you how to organise your files _ I so wish I had seen this before I started. It also so you how to use the research function which is excellent for students working at higher levels.


    Another tutorial I found useful early on is this one on using Google Presentations.


    Once you have mastered the basics it’s time to get creative but remember the language and learning outcomes are what must come first and the tool should be selected because it enhances teaching and learning.
    With that in mind, here is a Google Presentation I have prepared with Marianna Van Den Bergh and Marilyn Carroll. The question to bear in mind is what were the affordances of using  this technology. The aim was to practice the language forms of procedures. 

    So the key question is did this presentation provide more or better opportunities for students to engage with and learn the language?


    For me the key is engagement - not only is the format highly visual there mere fact that it is online makes a difference to my learners. I don’t know about you, but I have certainly had the experience of spending hours making activities only to find that in the group of four students only one or two are truly engaged and there is invariably one student who doesn’t participate at all. In my experience students are far less willing to sit back and let others lead when you giving them a mouse or a touch screen!

    Secondly the resource can be used with a whole class or small group but also quickly duplicated for each student.

    Students who are ‘stuck’ can be encouraged to move back in the slide sequence to review the things they don’t know. The resource can also be accessed anytime anywhere providing more opportunities for learning.

    By no means the least important affordance for me is a workload issue. Once this is created it can be copied for multiple students with minimum effort, it is available for easy updating AND no more cutting up bits of paper and putting them in snap lock bags and (worse) sorting them out after the lesson!

     Click here if you would like to make a copy of this resource for your own use. You will need to go to 'File' and then 'Make a copy'.


    Modern Learning Environments - or not?
    I once worked in a school where teachers would bet on what the most used word would be in the beginning of year staff meeting! This year I would imagine that the list included BYOD and Modern Learning Environment and perhaps digital technologies or tools.
    So my question is what is so modern about a modern learning environment? If all we do is the same but on a computer / laptop / tablet / phone are we doing anything modern?


    Research indicates that training in the use of computers to support learning is critical in ensuring that technology has an impact on achievement. However in many cases teachers are left to their own devices. Often it is individual teachers who takes the initiative and implements technology into their classrooms.  Many teachers use readily available, free online tools and find out how to use them through their own social networks and online communities of practice.

    What is more research in learning technology is not keeping up what is being done by these innovative secondary school teachers who are relying on their intuition as teachers rather than on research on learning.  Another worrying development is typified by the conversation that starts ‘I have 10 iPads / Chrome Books. Do you have any apps  I can use on them?’ This makes the starting point he technology and not the needs of the learners.

    At this point I’d like to make it clear that I am actually a big fan of the use of online tools but I strongly believe that they have to build on key pedagogy otherwise we fall into the ‘worksheet trap’ that the arrival of the photocopier created in many schools.

    There are ample, sound ESOL pedagogical principles that digital technologies enable us to implement in new, engaging ways. For example Swain’s (1985) ‘the output hypothesis’ suggests that collaborative tasks may be the best way to get students to produce comprehensible output, because when working together students need to negotiate meaning, and as a result are supported in producing comprehensible output beyond their own individual level of competence. Technology can facilitate this by making it easier for learners to work together. Research in vocabulary learning as well as other areas has shown that spaced repetition and time on task are key factors in language acquisition and many digital tools can enhance both of these factors.

    So what should we consider when deciding when and how to use digital technologies in our classrooms? The starting point has to be our students learning needs. Only after these have been identified can we consider the best ways to meet these needs.

    The SAMR is a useful model as it allows us to evaluate how we are using technology in our classroom.

    • Substitution - Teachers or students use new technology tools to replace old ones e.g. they now write in a Google Docs rather than an exercise book. The task is the same but the tool is different.
    • Augmentation - A new tool provides some additional functions not previously available or easily available. For example Google Docs provides extra services such as sharing of a PPT of the lesson uploaded to the school Moodle that allows students to review a lesson.
    • Modification - A  tool is used not to just do the same task but to design new parts of the task and transform students learning for example by using the commenting service in Google Docs, for instance, to provide teacher to student and peer-to-peer feedback.
    • Redefinition - At this level tools are used to create entirely new tasks. See the video below for an example of students using the voice comments to discuss the differences they noticed and then embed this in a class website.


    So for me the essential question remains 
            How does this technology allow me to better meet my learners needs?


    With that in mind, here is an example of how I have used digital technologies and face-to-face teaching to meet the needs of a group of learners in schools working with me. Click on the link below if you cannot access the Youtube video

    Integrating digital technology in the ELL classroom