Is this just another bandwagon?
We have been developing life skills in language classes for years. It’s not something new and certainly it’s worth thinking about and integrating more methodically into our teaching and helping our students understand and consciously develop.
Employers have been telling us for years that candidates for jobs with great exam results but limited ‘soft’ skills are not prepared for the world of work as it is today. They need staff with a set of problem-solving skills, communication skills and the ability to work well in teams. I am aware of many schools in the UK which now focus on such skills, particularly in disadvantaged areas, as honing these skills gives students a leg-up into top Universities and good jobs.
There are many descriptions of life skills / competencies. Cambridge University Press has compressed them into six main areas – Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Learning to Learn and Social Responsibilities.
Cambridge Life Competencies Booklets available to download – Cambridge.org/clcf - to find out more information from Cambridge University Press on how these are categorised and excellent classroom ideas.
Albert Einstein said ‘Creativity is intelligence having fun’. Allowing students to be more creative in lessons certainly can be motivating and enjoyable. For too long education has been obsessed with ‘the right answer’, rather than celebrating multiple possible answers.
For example, rather than asking a YL class what food goes on a pizza, expecting to hear the usual ‘cheese and tomato’ answer, I ask students “What’s your favourite pizza?’ and enjoy the variety of answers. Once children realise that I praise and celebrate all contributions, they start getting creative. I have had ‘spider and fly’ pizza and alien pizzas with pencils, rulers and paper as key ingredients. ‘Ha ha, that’s silly’ you may say. Not silly at all, the freedom to be creative allows students to use more of the language they know. Think about what is off-beat and weird allows them to play with language and use more of it.
Consider exams, in particular the speaking and writing papers. The more creative the answers, the better the likely results. I always encourage students to say something interesting, which doesn’t have to be true. It is hard for many students, who have been conditioned to give a ‘correct’ answer. For example, if the examiner asks, ‘what job would you like to have in the future?’, why not say astronaut or lion-tamer and play with these ideas?
Despite educators waving around Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking skills (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, + creativity) for many years, so much learning is still stuck at the first 2 levels of knowledge and comprehension e.g. learning grammar rules and then displaying that knowledge through doing countless exercises.
If we consider something as basic as doing a reading comprehension, we can see that multiple thinking skills are required to do it well. Students need to:
• Activate schemata – students make connections with what they already know about the topic in terms of facts, ideas as well as vocabulary and grammar.
• Identify purpose of a text, understand which are the main ideas
• Evaluate and compare different ideas
• Make predictions and check these while reading
• Guess meaning of new words
• Check comprehension etc.
We have been helping them develop these skills forever, but it would be better if we could isolate them for students and allow them to understand how these work in not just their English language learning but across disciplines.
There’s a lot more to communication that just asking and answering questions. We are much more focused on oracy today, which includes five aspects of communication.
Physical – body language, facial expressions, pace, voice projection
Linguistic – register, choice of words, rhetorical devices, humour
Cognitive – content, structure, reasoning, clarifying
Social – turn-taking, listening & responding
Emotional – confidence, liveliness, audience awareness
So, it’s a good idea to include activities like drama, role plays, debates and presentations in our lessons, to allow students to practise them all.
For example, there is always a unit on houses/furniture in our course books. I ask my students (any age/level) to work in pairs. One is an estate agent, the other a famous person (they choose). The estate agent must show their client around a property, highlighting all its special features to try to sell it to the celebrity. They get up off their seats and start the tour. This is not just a fantastic way to review and consolidate the language in the unit, they use the language meaningfully and can practise all five aspects of oracy.
See voice21.org for more on the oracy framework
This a key life skill that was traditionally frowned upon in education. Working together was seen as ‘cheating’, rather than a great opportunity for students to support each other, verbalise their thinking processes and have opportunities to use English. (See Vygotsky on the Zone of Proximal development and the importance of other people in one’s learning).
But it’s not just a matter of telling students to work in pairs or groups, we need to help them develop the various skills that are included under the umbrella term: collaboration. Have you tried doing projects work with your students? Are there upsets, disagreements and confusion about who does what?
What students need a focus on the following sub-skills
• Take responsibility for role in task
• Listen and respond constructively
• Share tasks fairly in group
• Appreciate others’ contributions
• Work towards a resolution together
These need to be introduced, discussed and agreed on.
Learning to Learn
We have so much to learn from neuroscience to best understand the workings of the learning brain and I recommend checking out Stanislas Dehaene on YouTube. He says:
‘We learn intuitively, without paying attention to how we learn. No one has ever explained to us the rules by which our brain memorises and understands… It is truly a pity, because the scientific knowledge is extensive.’
Stanislas Dehaene, How we Learn, Penguin, 2020
We cannot just assume that students will automatically develop effective learning to learn strategies. We have to present them, allow students to try them out, relect on them and discuss them with us.
For example, we need to raise awareness of and develop practices of
• Metacognition – so learners can become aware of how they learn and develop the learning strategies that suit them best e.g. self-reflection through asking questions such as: what did I learn / how did I learn that?
• Using autonomous support tools e.g. online dictionaries, online platforms, apps etc.
• Record keeping / note taking / visual organisers
Now, this one may surprise you, but it does link with collaboration and developing a sense of identity as an individual and a citizen of the planet, as well as already having direct links with what we do every day in our classrooms. It covers:
• Taking responsibility for own learning
• Role in group / class
• Exploring our own culture as well as others
• Global issues – becoming a global citizen (e.g. a focus on the environment)
All of these are important, but like the other life competencies we need to scaffold its development through
• Awareness raising & understanding
• Making links between the life competencies, the English language classroom and life in general
• Setting personal goals
An example task
Imagine (it won’t be hard) you are doing a unit in your course book on food.
• Ask students to work in pairs and choose a country or city they would like to visit
• Research about food in that place
• Decide what food they would like to try
• Either: Design a poster to persuade their classmates to visit this place and try this food
Or create a short TV commercial marketing a culinary trip to this place
Can you see which life skills will be practiced here?
All of them!
And what language skills? What vocabulary?
Are there tasks like this in your course books? Do you support your learners to do them successfully?
As I have said, developing life skills is not something revolutionary or new, but we have, as teachers, to unpick all the skills that are involved in these competencies and support our students to develop them.
These are the main points from a webinar I delivered for mostly Turkish teachers
on Saturday 29 May 2021
What is literacy?
What we read / write
Where we read / write it (from books to digital tools)
Engagement with the written word
Learning through literacy – it’s the key to knowledge
We do live in a digital world but
Children do not have equal access to digital technologies due to
· school focus and resources
· family circumstances
· cultural influences (e.g. a focus on traditional education)
Learning to read and write is
· a fundamental right
· a gateway to gaining knowledge
· has never been more important
While many people believe that children’s literacy is declining in the digital age, Professor David Crystal has done research into children’s use of mobile devices
Children using mobile devices have better literacy scores and spelling and are able to process information more quickly.
Schools shut and we moved to online teaching
Learning remotely meant using platforms like zoom / videos / links / handouts
So, learners have to be more independent and resilient
And teachers, too
Pros of remote learning for teachers
Explored different resources
Became aware of support e.g. Cambridge websites
Discovered learning could be more flexible
We all missed the real classroom –
people, interaction, humour, variety, spontaneity, encouragement, touch
The fact that learning is often a group experience
We need to learn together:
Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition = community plays a central role in the process of making meaning.
And we shouldn’t abandon the tried and tested older tools for learning.
Evolution is not simply change, it is development – an accumulation of knowledge
The brain has evolved over thousands of years. It has evolved to be able to take action and navigate appropriate behaviour. In order for the brain to develop in the best possible way, we need to use it for what it’s best at. We need to live an authentic life. We have to use all our senses, be outside, experience all kinds of weather and meet other people. If we don’t challenge our brain, it can’t reach its full potential. And that can impact school performance.
Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer, July 2020, Norwegian University of Science & Technology
We need hands on learning because
• need different stimulation / multi-sensory
• learn in different ways
• need the capacity to learn autonomously
• need to be digitally and otherwise competent
• need to learn other skills in class
The use of pen and paper gives our brain more hooks to hang memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write .. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.
Audrey Van der Meer, Norwegian University of Science & Technology
There are lots of great Pre-literacy tasks, which develop multiple skills:
Ball-throwing & catching
Arts and crafts
Using plasticene, spaghetti, pipe cleaners etc to shape letters and words
= they develop motor skills, coordination, focus and aid memory
Learning tasks need to be kinaesthetic and haptic.
Through these kinds of activities they learn to:
Recognise shapes of letters
Link letters to sounds
Link what they see to what they have heard
Are also collaborative and communicative – these are key life skills, children need to develop.
Reading real books is
· Tangible, tactile and immersive
· Better for eyesight and sleep
· Easy to look back
· Focus attention
· Reading is a personal, reflective, imaginative experience
There is an important role for Digital learning as it’s a key skill for our children now and in their future:
‘the importance of developing autonomy / initiative to use technology independently outside the classroom
Elliot et al, 2000
BUT we also need to focus on
· Online safety
· Training teachers
· Is stimulating
· Offers great language learning opportunities
· Exposes learner to the world
· Develops skills for the future
· Useful beyond the classroom e.g. homework
· Can still be collaborative & communicative
· Can be differentiated especially for homework
We want our leaners to be
Keen to learn
Able to work independently
and make choices
Check out these websites / blogs mentioned in my presentation:
My blog: www.olhamadylusblog.com
www.opdome.com – a nice online dictionary (one of many)
www.noredink.com - a writing resource for older children
www.learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org – for lots of stories, songs, material
as well as Home | World of Better Learning | Cambridge University Press – www.cambridge.org/elt/blog - for lots of support for teachers
I didn’t get round to answering all the questions after my presentation, so I am adding them here:
Sajjad Hussain 12:15 PM
which method of teaching directly deals with online education
Erdoğan Dalmış 01:13 PM
As we know that the average of literacy is increasing, why do people try to be brutal to each error? I mean sneaky people are supposed to be good but they are not. Why?
Muhannad AlAli 01:53 PM
Do you think digital literacy will dominate the future of teaching?
Mark Demirtan 01:54 PM
what do you mean by "you want your students to be resilient
ozan tekin 01:54 PM
What do you think about interactive literacy teaching among students?
Theresa Sarigüllü 01:55 PM
Thank you for the wonderful seminar, what can we do for ss the are determined to learn but don’t have enough tech?
Hüseyin Subaşı 01:55 PM
What kind of activities do you suggest to abolish the silence between the students during the class as a teacher?
May May Win 01:56 PM
How should we correct the language (grammar) in kids’ writing? Thanks
Don’t correct it all for a start! Make notes of grammar mistakes common to many students and plan activities to go over that grammar and help them all progress.
If students are making a lot of mistakes when they write, it means they weren’t well-prepared for the task. Make sure you build up the skills and language they need before setting a writing task for them. Also let them write in pairs or small groups, so they can support each other – remember Vygotsky!
Beatrix Ivannovita 01:56 PM
Very young learners are easily distracted. Would you share some tips to get them actively engaged?
Rafi Ergün 01:57 PM
You haven't mentioned oracy skills in this seminar, do you ignore it?
Anonymous Attendee 01:58 PM
What is the difference between collaboration and co-operation?
ozan tekin 01:58 PM
Do you think that individuals are responsible for their own learning in the face of a lack of techs? What about equity and equality?
Anonymous Attendee 01:58 PM
In your own opinion , what do you think is the best way for students to improve on English speaking?
Merve GÜRSAÇLI 02:00 PM
what is your opinion about Bilingualism? Do you have any advice to read about it?
Ebru Topal 02:01 PM
You know during the online teaching road, parents were with us but we as teachers and schools mostly are keen to show how much they we could cover in the process so we are doing online portfolio, any ideas?
and this one for teachers: