Friday, April 24, 2009

Adult Curriculum Changes

I noticed that the new Interactive Core Curriculum Tool on the Excellence Gateway website contains updated versions of the various curricula, in response to the consultation exercise of past year or so. There is no significant change as far as I can see to the Pre-Entry Curriculum itself and little to the ESOL one, bar distinguishing the elements better between beginners with no literacy and those with already know other scripts. (You may have to register before seeing any of this online. And I don't know if these documents are now "official.")

The numeracy curriculum does have a number of minor changes to sort out some of the discrepancies which have confused us over the years. This means I can now code my lesson plans correctly, for example, when teaching someone mental methods of calculation. A few things have been added to Entry 3. I like particularly this statement "Expressing one number as a fraction of another number has been included at Level 1 since this is a skill which is often tested at this level." So now I know: it's the testing which drives the curriculum, not the other way round; I've always had to teach it, of course, because it is tested.

There seem to be fewer changes in the literacy curriculum, but one is intriguing. They have moved "understand when commas are needed in sentences........ and that commas should not be used in place of full stops" from Level 2 to Entry 3. I'll be amazed if tutors can really get this working, as I find that a lot of my learners working towards Level 1 find commas really difficult, particularly the sentences bit. If people are going to be tested on this seriously at Entry 3, I'd stick my neck out and say there are going to be difficulties.

Otherwise the online implementation of the curricula is pretty good, and easy to find your way around when you get used to the layout - same as on any sophisticated site. The activities and ideas can be downloaded, or are linked to other places. You can add your own suggested activities for anyone else to see, and save places you want to return to frequently. There are also numerous forums on the Excellence Gateway site and Collaboration Spaces, including this forum for the Curriculum. Unfortunately most of these are pretty inactive. I'll be interested to see if any of the interactive side of this "tool" gets used more than other similar areas for Skills for Life or FE in the UK.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Maths Activities

Two websites with good ICT resources for Numeracy have recently been overhauled.

Firstly, the American NCTM has revamped its Java-based Illumination activities. I have added a few to the Activities Maths page, and will consider some more. I particularly like the Pan Balance Numbers activity, which I should imagine will appeal to those who appreciate Thinking Through Mathematics. The instructions for these activities are useful and directly accessible.

Secondly, The Standards Site, now called the National Strategies, has good demonstrations for mathematical concepts which I have long linked in Activities Maths. These are now more clearly accessed from the home site here. The mode of access has changed slightly so that the activities and the important instructions can be downloaded and run immediately. The host page also lists Interactive Whiteboard suitable files for Excel, and for Smart and Promethean Boards. I will also search through these for other activities useful for Post 16 Numeracy.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I've added links for the newly enhanced BBC RAW site. The current content is not particularly about literacy or numeracy; rather it is about basic computing and financial literacy. However, these are two topics that are never very far away from the literacy and numeracy classroom, even if they do not feature high on the Skills for Life curriculum. There is certainly some direct literacy and numeracy in there - I've noticed a module on percentages. I can see many Skills for Life learners being motivated by these activities.

What I think is really stunning is the look of the site. It has a very clean and simple interface for a start, and the learning is nicely chunked. But it is the use of the presenters on the periphery of the screen with video or activity in the centre which seems innovative to me. I haven't looked at every BBC site, but this does seem to be a departure. It gives me an inkling of how TV and web content might come together some time in the future.

More content is promised over the next three years. I hope there will be something soon that is more directly "reading and writing." Mean time enjoy what is there now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Online Dictionaries

I've come across a number of visual dictionaries recently, so I thought it was a good time to review the dictionaries section on the Skills for Life website. It's not a section I've changed much over the years, and it's been eight years now that the website has been around. It's not surprising that new applications are coming along as a result of developing web technologies.

Dictionaries now can have speech or synthesised speech rather the traditional phonetic equivalent which is difficult for learners, especially literacy learners. Look at the site which aggregates different dictionaries' definitions. But now people are thinking of different ways of introducing a visual element. Examples include Picture That which uses pictures and sounds and uses a phonic approach designed for dyslexic learners - the site needs registration. Merriam-Webster's visual dictionary takes an encyclopedia-like approach with graphics and labels. Visuwords uses mind maps to make links between words. The site I have come across most recently, Shahi, links a wordbank and definitions with pictures tagged that way in Flickr. It's a beautifully simple "mashup", still at quite an early stage, but crying out to be used in literacy or ESOL classes by teachers with ideas.

It's a while since I taught much literacy to classes. The Wordsmyth dictionary was around then and I designed learning activities using it. I wonder how much online dictionaries are used now. We still need to teach our learners alphabetical order and how to find words in book dictionaries. We still need to teach our learners to use spell checks effectively. These new multi-sensory tools give us a number of interesting new options.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ESOL Blogs

At last I've done my long promised review of ESOL Blogs. I've added a few new entries on the Blogs page of the Skills for Life Website. I decided not add a lot of links for a number of reasons including:
  • There are a lot of ESOL (or EFL/ESL) blogs out there, and it's not at all easy to choose between them. So I have only included ones I follow (in Pageflakes) or ones that made a special impact.
  • Blogs come and go a lot. Class blogs are likely only to run for a year. People move city or job. People lose interest. I followed one promising set of links without realising the list was a couple of years old and very few of the links led to an active blog.
  • It would be more useful for anyone to follow links from the rolls on the blogs I've listed or from suggestions within the text.
The ubiquity and variety and strength of the ESOL blogs makes a striking contrast to the paucity of literacy and numeracy blogs. However, I think these ESOL blogs can give any literacy or numeracy tutor lots of ideas:
  • how to use blogs in a class
  • how to use technology in classes
  • how to use Web 2.0 in classes
  • how to reflect on your teaching
  • about teaching generally
I also came across 2 Pageflakes samples, one where Pageflakes is used as a class homepage and one which links a whole lot of ESF/ESL blogs.

Friday, January 9, 2009

7 times 13 is 28

I guess many people may have seen this. I'm sure it could have a place in a numeracy class, and I'm quite enjoying thinking of the ways that might work: Why can't it work? Why is the answer not sensible? Estimate what a sensible answer might be. Let's compare it with the ways we have discussed doing these things. Is it right to check the answer? How does place value fit in? There's a lot you can do with it.

I used to hate Abbott and Costello when I was a teenager and they were all over TV and film shows. However I find this convincing and their timing is great.

You can find the video here at Teacher Tube, and you may find the comments helpful. There's another similar clip here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

ESOL Grammar Activities

I've added a new page for ESOL Grammar Activities to the Skills for Life website. Like the other activities pages, this contains direct link both to our quizzes and to quizzes on other people's websites.

This change reflects a change in some of my teaching this year. I am supporting a number of learners who don't speak English natively and I want to address some of their difficulties with grammar. In analysing their difficulties in initial assessment, there were a number of common factors: endings to words (both nouns and verbs), articles (or, more correctly, determiners), prepositions and conjunctions. Of course the internet is alive with quizzes and other activities for grammar for English learners, but I've not previously found them greatly useful for this group of learners. Some of these people may have been to school in the UK for at least some of the time, some may not be literate in their first language, some may not have been to ESOL classes. Moreover the mistakes are presented in English literacy, for me in their main courses, and so perhaps a literacy approach rather than an ESOL approach is needed.

The most acute difficulty is with the endings for tenses and plural nouns. I certainly don't want to teach tenses in a formal way, but I do want to help them recognise and correct their errors. So I have started writing some quizzes for endings. It has been hard work writing even a few. I have also found a few relevant quizzes for the other topics on other sites. I have used these activities for explanation as I go along, rather than for reinforcement which is how I usually use quizzes. So far the feedback from students has been very positive. I hope the page will develop in the coming months.