Friday, October 05, 2007

Online help with your English

Virtual Tutors

BBC Writing Lab Virtual Tutor - a superb site with lots of help for students + the online virtual tutor, which happens to be closed during vacation time at British universities. -

Writing Lab -

English as a second language – an amazing website with links to anything a student could possibly need. -

Guide to Grammar and Style -

I-tools – a search engine to locate tools online -

Writing in the English language – test your written English:-

This is a free writing exercise for learners of English as a second and foreign language. To take part you will need to watch a short film and then write a short review of your reaction to the film; how you felt while you were watching and when the film had finished. The film changes to a different film every few weeks, so bookmark this page and do the exercise again at a later date. Your review should be sent here where it will be read and assessed by one of our English teachers; and then returned to you by email.
To have your written work assessed and corrected for grammar, spelling and vocabulary use for free, just follow these simple instructions:
I - Turn up the sound on your computer. The sound quality is poor so and it's important that you can hear the film
II - Watch the film
III - Write your review (in under 50 words!) and send us your work.
IV - Wait for the corrected version to be returned to you via email.
Robert L. Fielding

Monday, October 01, 2007

Improve your chances of achieving academic success - become a better learner

Thoughts on promoting academic success and learning.

If learning is what we value,then we ought to value the process of learningas much as the result of learning.

Academic success and learning are not exactly the same thing, though they are closely related.

Learning – this should be something that is done in a sort of formal assessment-free zone – the gaining of marks seems to overshadow anything else in students’ minds. The Writing Centre should provide students with the opportunity for real learning to take place freed from the restraints imposed by formal assessment.

Academic success – this could take the form on concentrating on things like examination format, and the type of writing examiners are looking for. For this reason, I think it should only be provided in the time just before any tests or examinations, rather than earlier. If too much emphasis is made on strategies to pass tests, students will come to equate learning with attaining grades – more than they do at present.

1. Sites to promote academic success – a useful site with lots of links to interactive activities to help
2. Understanding what kind of learner you are – we should be encouraging students to monitor their own learning styles – here is a possible first step, though I do think changing learning styles could go beyond our scope.
3. Promoting learning – this site has a lot of information to assist us in helping our students to learn.

Motivation is probably the key to improving learning. I am not here to tell teachers what to do in their classrooms, and most of these ideas aren’t new ones, but it might help us to focus if we have them in front of us when we are talking about how to improve learning.

1. Create curiosity

Curiosity is perhaps the greatest of all motivators. Here is the difference between American and Japanese styles of teaching: In Japanese schools, students are immediately introduced to a problem or challenge. They grapple with it.

Curiosity is naturally engendered. By contrast, in American schools the main idea(s) are presented, the solution is taught, and then students practice. Where is the curiosity engendered using this approach?

2. Teach students to ask themselves questionsEncourage students to ask themselves questions. The questioning process starts the thinking process. When students begin to ask themselves “Why?” and “How?” questions, both alertness and interest increase. There are only three things we are more likely to answer than a question--the telephone, the doorbell, and e-mail.

3. Create desireStudents are constantly asking themselves, “What's In It For Me?” Since they're tuned to that radio station, WII-FM, spend a little time at the beginning to talk about what the lesson has in it for them--long and/or short range.

Consider asking why the lesson would be worthwhile, how students may benefit from it, and how they can make use of it.

Start by asking these questions of yourself.

Stuck? Put it on the table for students to grapple with. You will be amazed at (1) how resourceful they will be and (2) how it helps them buy into the lesson.

4. Structure experiences to apply to life outside of school.

Theory is important, but interest will increase the more you tie it into practice by showing how the learning makes life easier and better.

Share how the content will help students make better decisions, solve more problems, get along better with others, and make them more effective.

Have a poster and re-emphasize the following wisdom:

“Wise people think long-term, not just for today.”

5. Develop a sense of personal responsibility

Remember the fundamental principle of motivation: consciously or non-consciously people motivate themselves.

Each individual is responsible for learning, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to create the best possible climate in which that learning can take place.

An effective way to do this is to give students an opportunity at the beginning of the class to indicate:- What expectations they have,- What outcomes they expect, and- What they are willing to do to achieve those results.

6. Use acknowledgment and recognitionAcknowledgment/recognition/validation simply affirm. “I see you did your homework” fosters reflection and feelings of self-competence.

Also, consider repeating a comment you have heard or that someone has told you. "Evelyn made an interesting comment, one that applies to what we've been exploring. I think it bears repeating." What has been accomplished by employing this simple technique?- You gave recognition.- You not only encouraged Evelyn but you encouraged others to become more involved.- You demonstrated that you are open to feedback and students’ comments can contribute to their own learning.

7. EncourageOne of the most effective techniques is to let the student know that you believe s/he can accomplish the task. A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than a whole lot of praise after a success.

Emphasize that learning is a process and that no one can learn something and be perfect at the same time. Doing something one way and not being successful is another thing learned; don’t consider it failure.

8. Use collaborationCompetition improves performance, not learning. Yes, some students will practice for hours spurred on by the competitive spirit--be it in music, athletics, or performing arts. But these students are motivated to compete.

And competition can be fun for short periods, but competing with others is devastating for the youngster who never finds himself/herself in the winner’s circle. Rather than compete, the student drops out by giving up.

Every time a teacher asks a question of a group, students are competing for the teacher’s attention--and usually only one student wins.

A better approach is to establish learning buddies. Even a very shy student will share with one other person. So, instead of asking a question, pose the question. Asking implies a correct answer, whereas posing invites thinking.

Have students discuss the answer with each other. Using this approach, every student participates.

9. Get yourself excited You shouldn’t expect others to get excited about what you are teaching if you are not excited about it yourself. Show your enthusiasm for the lesson.

When lecturing, use just a little more enthusiasm than when you are conversing, facilitating, or reviewing.

10. Intensify interpersonal relationshipsConnecting with your students on a one-on-one basis is extremely valuable, but helping them connect with one another on a one-on-one basis can be even more valuable.

Give students an opportunity to socialize for short periods before learning activities start. Establishing relationships are extremely important to young people.

11. Offer choicesRegardless of age, everyone likes to feel control over one’s own life.

When we can make choices, we feel we have that control. Offer a choice of activities--and that includes home assignments.

By providing two, three, or even four activities and letting students choose among them, you give them an opportunity to select something that engenders motivation.

12. Use varietyA myriad of visual techniques can be employed including charts; cartoons; selected parts of films, videocassettes, and/or digital versatile discs (dvd’s); power point creations (on many new computers); and overhead transparencies.

Dressing the part of a character (teacher and/or student) qualifies.

A myriad of audio techniques can be used such as playing music, recording music, rapping, creating verse--or anything that has rhythm.

Remember how you learned your ABC’s? “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is the tune for “the alphabet song.”

A myriad of kinesthetic techniques can be used. Examples are drawing the spelling of a word in the air, standing in a small group rocking together to feel seasick on the boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean as immigrants, and just giving a high five to get attention (two eyes on teacher, two ears listening, one mouth closed).

Other approaches include large group discussions, case studies, and relating personal experiences to a learning buddy on the topic.Another technique is to use handouts for students to complete during the presentation.

This activity keeps them involved and also gives them something they can refer to later. This simple technique also allows you to cover more material in less time.


It's a wonderful experience to have in our classrooms eager, young people who are there because they want to be, not because they are obliged to be. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many classrooms today. However, by focusing on these suggestions, we can create lessons that produce better results for both students and teachers.

Here are a few things we might do well to remember:-
1. Motivation is optimal when coercion is at a minimum and a trusting, caring climate is at the maximum.
2. Involuntary relationships become voluntary when people are where they want to be.
3. Learning is promoted in this type of climate.
4. People do better when they feel better, not when they feel worse.
5. Competition increases performance, but collaboration increases learning.

Robert L. Fielding