Self-assessment: how I introduced it in the classroom and survived

You're the best dad ever!

Some time ago I had a really nice chat with my almost-workmate Anna about self-assessment and challenges it may create. I talked about it from the perspective of my language school, she – from the viewpoint of a teacher in a public school. Our aims were the same, to introduce and implement self-assessment in our classes. Our environments, however, couldn’t have been more different.

Working in a private language school – let alone being a DoS with one – has encouraged me to try various approaches and methods in teaching. Dogme? – sure thing (you wouldn’t believe, though, the amount of lesson prep before a Dogme-style class). TBL? – great idea. Flipped classroom? – always! Station rotation? – awesome! I am absolutely aware, though, that educational system represented by public schools would never let me experiment, as in the system I would only be expected to deliver what’s in the curriculum.

I know. I left the system after two years in a primary school. Still keep in touch with “my” kids, though, bless their wicked little hearts.

Harris and McCann (Assessment Macmillan Heinemann, 1994) observe that students are often passive and expect teachers to tell them if they have done well or badly. This may be an issue when it comes to most Polish teenagers I know. That is why I decided to implement self-assessment throughout the whole IELTS preparatory course, so that both the students and I would be able to follow progress constantly. Moreover, the ability of self-assessing (valuable not only in language learning) should be a broad educational objective at secondary level – and the teens I teach think of studying abroad.

Self-assessment needs to be done at regular intervals, so that learners can be given an opportunity to think about what progress they are making and what their problems are. One of the benefits of teaching this particular group of students is that I taught them in the previous years, implementing peer review during tests and encouraging self-assessing activities in forms of questionnaires and regular individual interviews (some of them, especially the final one was conducted with students and their parents).

When it comes to self-assessment, I implemented it mainly during assessing speaking and writing skills, as those areas were crucial according to the needs’ analysis. What’s more, since reading and listening abilities may be practised during regular classes the students participate in their public schools, academic writing and IELTS-oriented speaking may not.

Apart from in-class speaking tasks, the students were asked to record themselves at home and listen to themselves, which is one of the most beneficial exercises before any speaking test – it may come as a surprise, but they actually did it, even sent me recordings with their self-assessment, highly underestimating their skills, which seems a traditional Polish approach to self-assessment. In-class we practised speaking in front of the classroom (incorporating peer review), but both the students and I believe self-assessing part is the most beneficial for further development.

Writing tasks proved to be the most difficult when it comes to implementing self-assessment, however, it also proved to be the most rewarding. In order to make the students reflect on their essays I highlighted the fragments requiring some change and did marking on a separate piece of paper. The students then were given their papers back, corrected the highlighted areas and tried to mark their own compositions – after this I handed out my markings and we compared the versions, which allowed for not only correction and development, but better understanding of the IELTS marking system.

What implementing self-assessment gave me, was something close to all-year long system of formative assessment. The great bonus is that those teens gain the great skill of being able to self-assess their own progress and this is a skill that will be useful in the future, when the memory of the IELTS preparation course is long gone.

I believe a step-by-step approach may help introducing self-assessment even within a framework of public education. Try peer review instead of marking tests, maybe a class contest instead of short tests, let them create their own quizzes, let them assess themselves. The teachers in public schools are expected to teach so that kids pass their tests – but maybe if you try a very slow process of implementing self-assessment, your students will appreciate something new that not only is fun, but also makes them learn even more.

Enjoy!

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Role-Playing Teaching (Part 8 – making classes SuperBetter)

Role-Playing Teaching

It’s a really strange feeling, when you read a book in April and you realise you’ve just read your Book of the Year. Also, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t heard of Jane McGonigal before my Prince Consort picked her book during our monthly book hunt and said “You will love it”. He was right, naturally.

If you wonder why I would write a book review in my Role-Playing Teaching series, you need to watch a TED-talk by McGonigal herself who says things that make my little, black, rotten heart swell with happiness:

If the video hasn’t convinced you, you should read McGonigal’s bestseller “SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games”. I’m not a fan of self-help books (I read Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, tried to use it while communicating with my parents and failed miserably – I was 13 by that time and lost faith in such publications), but I cannot describe SuperBetter as a self-help book, and one of the reasons is the emphasis on cooperation and social relations helping us grow.

The book begins with a moving story of Jane’s happy life, misfortune and final success in overcoming obstacles and reaching a happy, yet full of challenges, life. Frankly, so many books written to inspire others follow the similar pattern, so being the Villain I am, I was somewhat sceptical – but what followed the personal story, was a flood of data from various research – and this was something I love (yay, research!). Have you heard of Snow World, a game used in burn centres to alleviate the pain using phenomena called spotlight theory of attention? And that’s just the beginning of the motivating story where you create your own game-like life in which you can assume a role of a superhero to overcome any obstacles.

How do games help in our development?

Playing video games releases as much dopamine as an injection of a drug. Why is it useful apart from sudden exhilaration? Simple – the research show that dopamine “shots” while we play games make us more determined to achieve goals and less frustrated in case of the failure. It was proven that players are more dedicated and resilient, moreover, games help you try out various tactics and approaches without real-life consequences which encourages you to be more daring, open and ready for opportunities. Playing games also help you learn proper prioritising your own goals.

How to wake up a gamer in oneself?

Even if you haven’t played for a good while you can recall the mentality of a gamer – think of your obstacles as challenges or quests, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or becoming an entrepreneur. From the neurological point of view, McGonigal explains, there’s no difference whether you feel “real” excitement or “make-believe” feeling, your brain is ready to go! If you read the book, you will learn how to “power up” positive experiences and build your inner game-world (for example, by giving names to the obstacles – if your goal is getting fit, your main enemy might be a Scheming Local Pizza Place, where they seem to have great deals exactly when you’re hungry and passing by… coincidence? I think not!). You will also learn how to plan your aims realistically and how to avoid procrastination (to which some of us, like yours truly, are really susceptible).

Quests!

Apart from theory, the book includes three quests: the first is for those looking for True Love (which, as all of us fans of The Princess Bride know, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops), the second is for people who want to become ninjas (or at least Mulan), and the third one is created for those who feel their days are too short and want to work on time management.

Why should you read it?

You may sensibly ask: so far so good, but what does it have to do with teaching? Well – everything! With games, you have the perfect tool to make yourself and your students motivated, ready for a challenge (because Dreadful Grammar Drill looks like a perfect name for the obstacle on our quest to Purrfect English!) and, first and foremost, to make all the educational process fun, even within the strict framework of public educational system.

I believe in games and teaching complementing each other to make education fun, so if you’re a member of a facebook group of Polish Teachers of EFL and you’re interested in this topic, you will have an opportunity to attend my workshop on RPG and TEFL as well as take part in a RPG session during Zlot this summer.

I hope to see you there!

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0143109778

7 Free Online Courses in May

7 FreeOnline Coursesin May

April showers brought May flowers and indeed, there are many free online courses blooming on various platforms – and since next week I’m going to have a well-deserved May mini-break, I managed to find nice subjects to study, so that you’ll have something to choose from even before May starts!

1 Academic Listening and Note-Taking by University of California, Irvine

Start: 30.04

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: non-native English speakers who want to work on their note-taking skills

This course may prove useful not only for teachers, but also their students. Listening exercises tend to be somewhat challenging, so these classes may help participants not only realise what causes their problems, but also how to overcome them and how to effectively deal with academic listening. If you have students thinking of studying abroad, that’s the course they might need.

2 Chasing your Dream: How to End Procrastination and Get a Job You Love by MEPhIx

Start: self-paced course

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: all of us who procrastinate too much

If you wake up at three at night dreading your future, this course may be great for you. Truth be told, the classes aren’t a magic pill, but they will offer the tools for solving key problems that can hinder self-fulfilment. If you feel tired and discouraged by your work (and I believe most teachers do, especially in May), you may find those five weeks really useful.

3 How to Write an Essay by University of California, Berkeley

Start: 03.05

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: English learners

If you want to improve your writing skills or your students think of taking IELTS or studying abroad, this may be the perfect course for you or them. The course focuses on essay development, grammatical correctness, and self-editing and you will be given various topics and tools to work on your skills. Apart from this, you will also be encouraged to discuss your ideas with other students as well as doing some peer review,

4 Inspiring Young People In STEM: Using Feedback to Improve by The National STEM Learning Centre

Start: 21.05

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: teachers and educators who want to work on feedback

This short course is a great idea for those who can give feedback, but at the same time struggle with gathering information from people. You will learn how to gather feedback, reflect on it and act accordingly. You will also get familiar with tools that make feedback sessions more reliable. I would recommend this course not only for fresh teachers, but also those who want to refresh their attitude towards feedback.

5 How To make a Poem by Manchester Met University

Start: 28.05

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: anyone who wants to write poetry

I really enjoy writing poems in the classroom, but this course will take you on a proper journey through poetry, its various styles and melodies. You will not only learn how to write sonnets, but will also study things like line breaks, metre, rhyme, and rhythm. I’d recommend this course for everyone, especially EFL students interested in poetry.

6 Teaching for Success: Learning and Learners by the British Council

Start: 28.05

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: fresh teachers and educators ready for discussions

This course may seem to be appropriate for rookie teachers, but I’d recommend it for all those who want to discuss their teaching methods with various people all around the world, as the courses offered by the British Council gather people of various backgrounds and apart from the really interesting course, you will be able to enjoy many inspirational discussions.

7 Working in Teams: A Practical Guide by the University of Queensland

Start: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers who struggle with teamwork

This course is focused on the systems and processes for building high performance teams. You will learn about various types of teams, why teams are important, the roles of individuals in a team, systems and processes for effective teamwork and communication, and methods for addressing team conflict. You will also be given useful team diagnosis tools and templates to help you not only create a good team, but also manage potential conflicts. I have already recommended this course, but it’s so good I feel like sharing it again.

I hope you’ll find these courses useful – they are usually short and quite easy, so that you can still spend plenty of time appreciating the beautiful weather.

Enjoy!

6 Useful Apps for Academic IELTS Prep

6 apps for Academic IELTS

This year I’ve been preparing a group of teenagers for their Academic IELTS. I experimented with various books (like Direct to IELTS and Ready for IELTS), but when it comes to teenagers – especially those who have a lot of studying apart from test-oriented English course – you need to look for alternative sources of individual tasks, because in their case typical homework just wouldn’t work.

What could I do? Naturally, I had to follow a phrase that’s become quite typical for me, namely there’s an app for this. And indeed, you can find a lot of mobile applications helping you deal with IELTS-related issues. And since sharing is caring, I decided to present my top 6 apps that will help students practise at home and prepare for the test – links will direct you to Google Play Store where you’ll be able to download the app. You may also find most of them in the Apple Store as well.

1 IELTS Full Band 7.5+ by English Store

This app provides not only exercises, but also useful tips on test techniques. You may learn vocabulary, practise your listening skills, focus on writing or even work on your speaking. I find this app really useful if you want to work on your overall English level. You may say you don’t need such a high band (the app is expected to help you get 7.5) on your test, but I believe it’s better to prepare for the higher band. Accept the challenge and try this app!

2 IELTS Prep App by the British Council

This app focuses on listening and speaking – areas which can be surprisingly problematic for most students. You will have access to practice tests, tips, explanation of assessment criteria, videos of speaking tests and much more, so that you’ll be properly prepared for your test. You can even set up a daily reminder to monitor your progress. I believe everyone will find this app useful, as speaking test – especially its second part – is one of the trickiest I’ve ever seen.

Have you ever tried a 2-minute long monologue on your way from school to home when it’s a short walk… oh, and don’t forget to show off your linguistic potential!

3 IELTS Writing by FR-solutions

I find writing the most problematic area to prepare for Academic IELTS, especially that most essays written in a regular school look completely different (at least in Poland), an preparing students for writing a composition that is so unlike the pattern they’ve known for years may be particularly difficult. However, you may find an app to support one’s endeavours, and this one is really useful. Apart from practice tests, you’ll find lessons and samples that will guide you through the unfamiliar ways of Academic English essays. I could recommend this app for every Academic IELTS student.

4 Grammar for IELTS Test by Bananas eLearning: Professional Education

A regular course preparing for IELTS may not focus on grammar to the extent expected by the students, thus an app to encourage their in-home study. This free offline app will provide three levels of grammar study (beginner, intermediate and advanced) with 2000 questions in 200 tests.

5 IELTS 4000 Academic Words List by Hoang Minh Thang

Although there is no specific part for testing vocabulary during IELTS, there is a certain core a candidate is expected to be familiar with. This app will help you remember the essential vocabulary for Academic IELTS, presenting various tests. each word is described with an explanation, pronunciation and usage. It tracks your progress and reminds of various quizzes to test your knowledge.

7 IELTS Skills – Complete by Macmillan Publishers Ltd

This app is designed to help you develop all the skills needed for Academic IELTS. It’s filled with content by Sam McCarter (the author of Ready for IELTS and Tips for IELTS) and it’s really well-designed and useful for all test candidates. You will find there videos of speaking tests, lessons on various writing samples and possibilities for self-assessments.

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 7: For Those About to Roll)

Role-Playing Teaching(Part 7_For Those Aboutto Roll)

The following note is a rough translation of the post Erpegi na pierwszy raz available here. The author, Michał Laskowski, kindly agreed to me translating and sharing his work. It is originally meant for people who are already familiar with RPGs, so I believe you already know enough of theory and it’s high time to start playing on your own!

Two important things before you start reading: I took the liberty to shorten the original post, so if you’re Polish and want to read more, go to the original page. Also, some of the games presented by Michał are in Polish only and I didn’t share them here, so if you’re Polish… you know what to do.

Bored, ain’t you? Wanna play a game?

(…) One of the methods of introducing new people to the hobby is persistently telling stories about it, sending links to texts and videos entitled What is RPG?, and finally making an appointment specifically for the RPG session. (…) However, you can take people by surprise, with the game that is small, free and easy to use. Suited to a social meeting over a pint, the long train ride etc. Either way, it’s important to choose the game according to the interests of people who we plan to engage into playing RPGs:

For the travellers: the game suited perfectly for chilling out and worth every recommendation is Luna by Marta Kucik Kucińska, which won Polish Game Chef Award in 2014. Attractive (for a DIY) and recommended to try for the first time before it gets too dark. Once you get the rules, you may try playing under the starry sky to experience an even greater fun. (…)

For those who enjoyed Stranger Things (and Netflix shows in general): Outstanding Heroes and Extraordinary Threats (…) that will bring you great fun with colourful yet cliché adventures. (Something many people are surprisingly fond of, me included)

For those hungover and jet-lagged: the irreplaceable Norwegian game by Tomas HV Mørkrid Stoke-Birmingham 0-0. The game where you play the most average European ever. I do not want to spoil surprises here – this is the ultimate RPG!

Time to rock!

If you already managed to break the ice in speaking on behalf of your character (I have a feeling that this is a big challenge, even for the fairly outspoken people), we can try with more games. I believe that only then can one theorise on what RPGs are? and start playing more typical systems with character sheets, dice, and a typical Game master – Players structure.

Another RPG worth testing is Lady Blackbird. It’s already reached the status of one of the canonical classics. One of the best choices for a quick RPG (there is no character creation) (…).

From an old player’s library…

I wanted to mention a few published games that were released some time ago. Many of them may seem quite forgotten. Sometimes they may require chipping in a few dollars from the players (…):

Blood and Honor by John Wick Now a classic, made for all lovers of Japan and the Samurai. One of the most interesting elements is contributing to the storytelling – test results do not indicate the success itself, but the person who determines the consequence of the action. It’s a very engaging game for the whole team, especially that you start with creating own clan.

Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker. This alternative western story about young Mormons with just a hint of fantasy. Something that you want to show your friends from a drama club to show them that your kind of fun is also “real art”.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Another classic (…), perfect for chatting and sipping beer, and looking at the fireplace during long winter evenings.

Let’s roll!

As you can see, most of these games challenge the typical image of a Game Master as a guide followed by the players. It’s not because I despise the mainstream games. It’s a matter of pragmatism. After gamemastering a few sessions in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game, you will still be the one who knows all the rules of the fight, you’ll be an authority in matters of the world and the main creator of a plot during the adventure. If the players learn how to co-create the plot from the beginning, as well as using game mechanics, they will take the initiative much more easily,

Free Online Courses in April

7freeonline coursesin April

April showers bring… a lot of free online courses. With the weather still unpredictable, it’s still a nice idea to spend windy days at home, studying and developing our teacherish skills… and not only those, as I found some courses everyone might find useful, not only teachers.

1 Teaching Computing by The National STEM Learning Centre and The University of East Anglia

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: primary and secondary school teachers

This course will help you master teaching computer science skills, digital literacy, digital citizenship and digital scholarship. It covers subject knowledge, skills and advice on planning, teaching, assessment and policy – and while it may seem useful mostly for the IT teachers, the truth is we all can study a bit of this field.

2 Academic Integrity: Values, Skills, Action by the University of Auckland

Start: 9th April

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: mainly for university and college students, including undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral candidates

What is academic integrity and why is it so important in academic environment? If you prepare students for university (or are a student yourself), you may find this short course really interesting. Apart from plagiarism and misconduct, this course will help you develop study skills and academic writing skills.

3 English for Academic Purposes: a MOVE-ME Project Course by The University for Foreigners of Siena, the Open University (OU) and NUI Galway

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: university students taking part in student mobility programmes in Europe, and anyone following academic courses in English. A minimum B1 knowledge of English is required

If you, or, more likely, your students, consider the idea of educational mobility programmes, you might find this course useful – it will provide you with the basics of English for Academic Purposes to come up with proper written and oral academic tests. This course may be used as a great help when it comes to using forum and exchanging ideas with other participants who also think of studying abroad.

4 English for the Workplace by the British Council

Start: 16th April

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: non-native English speakers who have studied English to at least pre-intermediate level (A2)

This course may be students for those who think of moving abroad and finding a career – as a teacher you may either share this course with your students, or get inspired to share some of the ideas by yourself. You will work on your CV and job application language as well as a successful job interview.

5 Conflict Transformation by Emory University

Start: 9th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who struggle with conflicts in their environment

This course introduces the concept of conflict transformation and how it can change the conflict into something constructive. You will study various methods of mediation, as well as tools and ways to handle conflicts creatively into something useful. I believe this course may be useful especially for those of us who struggle with class discipline, as it may give us more ideas on how to manage unruly students.

6 Giving Helpful Feedback by University of Colorado Boulder

Start: 23rd April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: everyone who needs to give feedback to others

This course may prove useful for teachers, trainers and DoSes alike, as giving feedback is one of the key elements of our work – and we could use some extra tips to make our feedback better and more helpful, making people more positive and encouraging them to a much greater extent.

This course is my pick of the month, but traditionally, I have something extra:

7 The Science of Beer by the Wageningen University

Start: 24th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in beer and its history

This MOOC is developed by students of Wageningen University & Research in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the university. You will learn all about beer, including how it’s made, the raw materials used, its supply chain, how it’s marketed and the effect of beer consumption on your body. It’s not a bad idea to study this before holidays start…

I hope you’ll find a course that will suit your needs – if you pick Feedback, I’ll see you online, but I believe all the courses are equally useful.

Enjoy!

Quizizz: making tests fun (+ activity ideas)

Quizizz_ making test fun

There is no course without assessment – I’m not really a fan of ready-made tests that come along with the coursebooks, so I used to spend hours designing my own tests covering those aspects I wanted to assess at that time. Although I found it a good method, it was rather time-consuming. Fortunately, here comes that magic phrase: There’s an app for this!

You must have heard of Quizlet and Kahoot!, but today I want to share my favourite quiz-making application: Quizizz. Apart from a name (try remembering which z is doubled!), this tool is not only useful and easy to grasp, but also fun to use, both for teachers and students. Quizizz allows people to create and use one another’s multiple-choice quizzes, so they can be used live as a form of classroom competition, or as homework (with maximum 2 weeks of deadline).

So far so good – but how does it work? A teacher prepares the test, students login on their mobiles (either via browser or using an app, but unlike Kahoot! you don’t need a projector) and they may enjoy an energised quiz with bright colours, fun music and memes (truth be told, it was the memes that I paid attention to at first). The questions are randomly given to students, thus eliminating cheating. After choosing the answer students immediately get feedback, and the resulting data is compiled into a spreadsheet to give the teacher a clear visual of the students’ performance in order to analyse trends in which areas might need the most focus in the future.

The good thing about Quizizz is that you may either create your own quizzes (which may again take a lot of time) or use ready-made tests create by your fellow users… or you can teleport questions from various quizzes to make your own, which is a great thing and really saves your time.

How can we use Quizizz in the classroom?

  • Whenever the students get bored – you may prepare a short and silly test to make them laugh;
  • As an entry activity, when you want it to be a form of revision;
  • As a revision exercise, students create their own quizzes (each group works on specific unit or area), and then all you need to do is teleport their questions and have a nice, proper test;
  • As a homework activity, when students prepare tests for one another;
  • As an after-film activity: students watch film in the classroom, and then answer questions

Truth be told, possibilities are endless, all you need to do is give it a go and soon you’ll see that quizzes may be fun. If you need a step-by-step instruction on how to start with Quizizz, you may find it here:

How to Use Quizizz:
1 Go to Quizizz.com and hit “GET STARTED”.
2 If you want to use an existing quiz, you can use the “Search for quizzes” box and browse. Once you have selected a quiz, skip to step 8. If you want to create your own quiz, select the “Create” panel, then the “Sign Up” panel and fill in the form.
3 Enter a name for the quiz and an image if you like. You can also select its language and make it either public or private.
4 Fill in a question, as well as answers, and be sure to click the “incorrect” icon next 5 to the correct answer in order to change it to “correct”. You can also add a corresponding image if you would like.
5 Select “+ New Question” and repeat step 4. Do this until you have made all of your questions.
6 Hit “Finish” in the top right corner.
7 Select the appropriate grade range, subject(s), and topic(s). You can also add tags to make it easier to search for.
8 You can either select “PLAY LIVE!” or “HOMEWORK” and choose the desired attributes.
9 Students can go to Quizizz.com/join and type in the 6-digit code to participate in the live quiz or complete the homework. They will be asked to enter a name to be identified by.
10 Once the students are finished, refresh your page and you will be able to view the results of the quiz. Click the “+” next to a name to expand and get more detailed, question-by-question results. (by blogs.umass.edu/onlinetools)

Enjoy!