#ELTchat Summary: '21st Century Skills'

If you missed this #ELTchat on 21st Century Skills, you missed a corker! The discussion just couldn’t end and some of us are perhaps in a space where we need to agree to disagree or even conduct further research on the topic. The entire chat for the scheduled hour is here but it refused to be tamed so there were further discussions afterward.
Links people might want to look at are:
About digital writing in education. A post I basically disagree with.
The Overselling of Ed-Tech. A post I basically agree with.
Kicking off, I (@getgreatenglish) admitted that I don’t see ’21st Century Skills'(from now I’ll use 21CS) as anything worth teaching. Angelos Bollas (@angelos_bollas) agreed, saying that he’d once heard a great talk by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto (@TeachingVillage) about this; Matt Ellman (@MattEllman) said there hast to be more to 21CS than edtech; Michael Griffin (@michaelegriffin) also agreed. His pinned tweet on his profile at that point was:

What every 21st Century teacher should do: Be a teacher in the 21st Century.

Rachel Appleby (@rapple18) works as a coursebook writer and has also worked on digital content for publishers, which she said was “a very different medium”. She also said that she believes that using an  interactive whiteboard (IWB) is “all about approach – not showing off tech”.
She also said that she loves it when teachers take into account how to use tech, including students’ phones in lessons, which Angelos backed up: “not using tech for the sake of it but knowing what, how, and when to use it in order to achieve learning objectives”. Rachel then added that one good way to start using tech is by integrating it into a standard lesson plan.
As for technology itself, I remarked that IWBs are often used just because they look more aesthetically pleasing than flipcharts.
David Boughton (@David__Boughton) claimed he “can’t do anything faster than write on a whiteboard or mark a paper with a pen”. I can type dead fast (I used to be a television subtitler) but I’d agree that waking up a computer and opening software or browser windows takes time that could often be better spent using stationery.
Matt raised the point that 21st Century grammar doesn’t make its way into coursebooks very often (for example, reporting speech using “[be] like”). He also mentioned that because his learners can get exposure to the language using the internet he doesn’t need to use authentic materials as much with his learners.
Angelos, Rachel and I stated that lesson planning is still important when using technology, (I’ll clarify that I don’t think you need to write your plan down but just make sure you know what you want to use, how to use it and what the point is).
I stated a dislike for the maxim that we are “teaching kids for jobs that haven’t been invented yet”. If this is the case, what are we supposed to teach them, where does language feature and where does ELT come into all this? Rachel replied that she would be happy if students saw a reason to study English and that motivation was important in order to get them to want to learn using the best possible means because we can’t predict future jobs. David said that he thought English teachers should worry about teaching English, not job (21st Century) skills.
Teacher training was given a going over: Matt stated that reading lists on certificate and diploma-level programmes haven’t been updated for ages. Rachel said that there are different online course providers available for CPD. Angelos said what about having an observed online lesson, which I said was unnecessary because a lot of people still don’t need/want to teach online and the method is easily learnt after the basics of actual teaching. Sue Annan (@SueAnnan) said that it wasn’t necessary in all contexts. TalkenEnglish (@TalkenEnglish ) said that CELTAs don’t take into account different teaching contexts, which took us onto differentiation.
twitter.comI said that differentiation is preached on diploma-level courses. Carrie Stubbs (@StubbsCarrie) said that differentiation is probably overwhelming on a 4-week initial training course. English My Way (@EnglishMyWayUK) said that training for learner-centred approaches would greatly help this.
Laura Soracco (@LauraSoracco) talked about digital literacy as a 21CS. I disagreed, saying they are just L1 literacy skills which can be transferred to L2/digital environment. Matt seemed to agree with me. Laura continued to state her case, and it can be summed up as:

  • Not all learners have the text-navigation skills in L1, so teaching it in L2 is useful.
  • Managing, storing and producing information digitally needs to be taxonomised correctly.
  • These can be integrated into language classes themed on Digital Literacy.

I’m not totally convinced but we agreed to have a bit more of a back and forth.
This is the #ELTChat that refused to die so it looks like next weeks’ chat will be a continuation on a very related theme.

#ELTchat  3 Feb 2016 Summary: Differentiation

Differentiation is, in the educational sense of the word, treating learners differently. Here is what the Twitter #eltchat (transcript) said about it.

What is differentiation?

“What is differentiation?” appears to be such a difficult question to answer that it only got directly answered by one short answer by Angelos Bollas, despite being asked by both James Taylor and Shaun Wilden. Angelos said it is:

“designing and/or assigning diff tasks for diff ss for the same lesson”

whereas Yitzha Sarwono said it is:

“giving students different works for the same subject discussed”

How people differentiate

Talken English remarked that there are always fast finishers that need extra work. Patrick Andrews stated that differentiation isn’t just mixed abilities but also “motivation, backgrounds, etc.” Sue Lyon-Jones also added that sometimes it is appropriate to “have a spread of abilities in one group”.
Patrick mentioned:

“levels are not the same as abilities.  – if someone has only just begun, they may be able but beginner”

And Sue Lyon-Jones added that such “‘spiky’ profiles” are common in ESOL.
Talken English said that at their school there is a large gap in ability.
Sue Lyon-Jones said that differentiated homework (such as pre-teaching vocabulary) is useful, and Yitzha said that she set difficult tasks to more able students and similar easier work to students with similar problems.
MariaConca said that differentiation was necessary to cater to different learning styles. Glenys Hanson then mentioned that learning styles have been found to lack any evidence backing them up. Rachel Appleby mentioned that using learning activity styles can be good to ensure learners get different activities that they might not usually choose to do. I said that this would be a good method to counter previous teachers’ labelling of students as things like ‘a visual learner’.
I mentioned that I often differentiate by outcome, to which Patrick recommended and old book by Anderson & Lynch called ‘Listening’. I was asked how I would differentiate by outcome and my example was:

“High: order food with pragmatic appropriacy. Mid: order food (formal lang). Low: order food – no L1”

I also mentioned that it can be worthwhile differentiating by mental states, too, and not just ability.
Patrick said he was thinking about using drama in his classroom and that students who didn’t want to perform could take other roles such as directing, etc.
I said that different roles could be set in discussions: overpowering students could be given quieter roles and weaker students could be set as leader to prove their ability.
Sue Annan asked rhetorically:
“can you differentiate the amount of work, rather than the work itself- choose 4 q’s to answer(?)

Problems with differentiation

Problems with differentiation that were talked about were:

“exposing weaker students. You don’t want them to feel uncomfortable.” (Talken English)

Glenys said

“Ts often project feelings onto students they don’t have. Respect weaker students & they’ll be OK.”

I also said some learners might think they are of higher ability than they really are if they are kept with others of similar but lower ability.