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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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!

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!

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com

The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.

Enjoy!

Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 6: Game Mechanics)

Role-Playing Teaching (1)

I’ve avoided this moment for as long as I could, but I don’t think I can move forward in writing about RPGs without discussing the mechanics. If you haven’t played any proper RPGs before, you probably won’t know that this aspect of games has been discussed for years, and involved: fandom wars, friendships ruined (seriously, been there) and physical injuries (OK, I might exaggerate a bit here) by almost all RPG players (minus D&D players who simply watch from the sidelines and eat popcorn 😉 ). Which one is more important – rolling dice or storytelling, element of chance or the belief that everyone should be satisfied with the general outcome of the story where a roll may often be unfair?

In case you’re worried – I’m not going to discuss those issues here – let me just admit I personally believe both aspects are important: storytelling may be the most important goal of RPGs (at least from a teacher’s approach to use RPG in the classroom as a communicative tool; as a pure game I’m convinced its main goal is to have fun), but it is the rules and rolling the dice that makes it a game.

In my previous note I gave three examples of characters’ communication and you could see that even if a simple chat or negotiation was fairly easy to act out, there were problems with finding a fast and easy conflict solution. In order to make it short and simple (my favourite KISS rule) we may simply roll a die and determine the success by the higher number rolled.

While this idea may sound good enough, it still seems rather unfair, especially when one character is an Experienced Lawyer (who spent years manipulating people), and the other is an Edgy Teenager (who simply goes with I know better attitude). Now, this exactly is the reason why RPGs use a tool called Character Sheet with basic traits and skills listed and “graded”. Usually all players start with the same number of EXP (experience points) to divide among traits, skills and abilities according to their characters’ background, profession etc. Then the roll may be modified by a point assigned to the particular attribute, so Experienced Lawyer, having higher social skills, will have an advantage over Edgy Teenager.

Naturally, you may design your own character’s sheets, but since I’ve already picked Monster of the Week as a system in which I’ll set my adventures, I’ll share a simplified MotW sheet.

Simple Character Sheet

Moves

Moves cover situations when the game rules step in to help you determine what happens, e.g. something dangerous, conflicts, unusual events. The Moves in MotW we’re going to use are as follow:

  • Act Under Pressure, used for difficult/dangerous situation
  • Help Out, used to help another player by giving them a bonus on their task
  • Investigate a Mystery, used to work out the situation the character is in
  • Kick Some Ass, used for, well, kicking ass, because in RPGs sometimes we declare a fight
  • Manipulate Someone, used in those times when Kicking Some Ass would be too risky
  • Protect Someone, used to save someone from danger
  • Read a Bad Situation, used to work out what dangers are threatening you

In MotW there are more Moves, but since we’re not really hunting Monsters (not yet), we’re good with the basics.

Ratings

In order to make abilities good enough to reflect our character, we are using the Ratings. They are added to (or subtracted from) your dice total when you roll for a Move:

  • Cool is how calm you are and adds to your roll Under Pressure and when you Help Out
  • Tough is how strong you are and adds to your roll when you Kick Some Ass or Protect Someone
  • Charm is how pleasant you are and adds to your roll when you Manipulate Someone
  • Sharp is your intelligence and how observant you are, and adds to your roll when you Investigate a Mystery or Read a Bad Situation

The ratings range from -1 to +3, where -1 is bad, 0 is average, +1 is good, +2 is really good and +3 is phenomenal. You start with 3 points, so some ratings will get better than average, some worse – just like in real life.

Now, all you need to do is roll two everyday six-sided dice, add them together and then add whatever number is written down for your character’s rating:

  • 10+ is a success – well done, you passed the test and everything’s great
  • 7-9 is partial success – well, you’ve made it BUT…
  • 1-6 is a miss – sorry, not this time…

So let’s take the conflict situation from the previous note:

Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon in your favourite café and enjoy coffee and cakes.

Player A: you realise you’ve forgotten your money… again. Ah well, Player B will probably help you.

Player B: Player A seems to have forgotten money… again. It riles you up because somehow it’s you who usually pays for both of you and A doesn’t usually remember to give it back to you.

Let’s assume player A is Edgy Teenager, and Player B is Experienced Lawyer. If the discussion takes too much time you simply ask Player A to test their Manipulate Someone move. Now, Edgy Teenager adds 0 from his Charm and rolls 3 on one die and 4 on the other die. He gets 7 – partial success, Player B will treat Teenager this time, but this is seriously the last time, and their friendship is somewhat shaken…

I hope I helped you to grasp the idea of game mechanics – naturally, there’s much more to this as there are many worlds, many systems, many mechanics and their variations. The simplified version of MotW is just an example of a family of popular systems (called Powered by the Apocalypse), but there are ever so many of them, more or less complex, based on dice, cards, tricks etc.

Do you feel like learning more of them? Well, why don’t you get your own copy of a system that suits you and go on an adventure with your friends, students or both?

Enjoy!