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Communication and Collaboration

Task 3 of Learning and Innovation Skills: Communication and Collaboration

Communicate Clearly

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions
  • Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade)
  • Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priori as well as assess their impact
  • Communicate effectively in diverse environments (including multi-lingual)

Collaborate with Others

  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

What are some collaborative  activities that help develop communication skills?

Podcasts | Wikis | VoiceThread | Blogs


What’s a podcast? A podcast is an audio or video file that you can download to your computer or music player (such as an iPod). You can listen to a podcast on a music/MP3 player or a computer. The difference between this kind of file and any other download is you don’t have to go out looking for new content – it is delivered to you automatically when you subscribe, so it’s more like your daily newspaper as compared to the book you borrowed from your local library. Podcasts are generally short and contain additional written material, which can be accessed on computer OR smartphones.

World language teachers have 3 options in using podcasting:

  1. Using podcasts that others have created (ESL Podcast) (Apple’s index of educational podcasts) to provide authentic, motivating materials for your students.
  2. Creating podcasts that are closely tied to the content of your course and sending them out into the ether for use by your students in class or in a mobile immersion environment.
  3. Having your students collaboratively create podcasts as a way to increase their listening and speaking opportunities, give them an authentic audience and motivate them toward greater engagement with the language. See how GWU’s  professor Heather Schell has her writing center students create “Gorilla Radio” news podcasts.

There’s even an  ESL Teacher Podcast for getting some new teaching ideas.


A wiki allows a group of people to enter and communally edit both images and text. Here’s a quick introduction to how wikis work.  One teacher had her students at NOVA create a Wiki to collect tourist information for Washington DC and give feedback to a similar class in a community college in Dallas on the site they built with information on the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

This wiki provides resources for college-level ESL students.


Article on how Weblogs can be used in ESL Classes. Posting written work in a blog encourages the student’s development of the concept of audience, and gives students more reading practice, allowing them to comment on and respond to each other’s work.

Voice Thread

Voice Thread is a way to save audio files and documents online, sharing them with others. The audio files can be responded to on the same page as the original. Here’s an example from a Georgetown University class.

More Resources

Facebook has Language Exchange – Connect with people who want to exchange lessons in your second language and your first one.

Purdue University has an excellent resource for academic writing: The  Online Writing Lab provides guidance on various style formats for all students, outlining, and a special section for ESL Students.

The Voice of America Learning English website has current news in simplified English with accompanying audio of the story read at a slow pace. Users can read and listen to develop listening comprehension.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Task 2 of Learning and Innovation Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Reason Effectively

  • Use various types of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation

Use Systems Thinking

  • Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems 

Make Judgments and Decisions

  • Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs
  •  Analyze and evaluate major alternative points of view
  • Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments
  • Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
  • Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes

Solve Problems

  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways
  • Identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions 

What activities contribute to the development of critical thinking skills?

Debates | Media Analysis | Problem – Solution Tasks


Debates demand that students examine all sides of an issue. Choose a debate topic that is relevant to your students’ interests, or better yet, let them nominate topics to be voted on by the class. Preparation can take place in face-to-face or computer-mediated communication. Debates can be made more real by having a class at another school take the opposing side and debate through teleconferencing software (Skype or Google Hangouts  are free and can be recorded for later evaluation) A service is provided by Skype in the Classroom to connect teachers for this kind of activity.

Media Analysis

Students can pick any age-appropriate news story and ask critical questions about it: Why was it written? Who is this story for? Why did the writer choose to interview the people in the story?  How does this story make you feel? Is there any bias involved in the reporting?Among the resources for news are News For You Online (easy to read stories for new ESL readers), Press Reader (international newspapers, read aloud), and Voice of America Learning English.

As a follow-up, students can create their own newspaper, using one of a number of online newspaper templates, such as MakeMyNewspaper.

Problem-Solution Tasks

What are the problems or challenges your students face?

You can ask them to solve the huge world problems like pollution but it might be better to give them the chance to think critically and innovatively about a problems closer to home.  A school community is an excellent place to apply systems thinking.

Part of the process of choosing what to tackle will be decision-making skills that involve prioritizing, analyzing arguments, and using judgement.  Using an electronic poll such as the ones you can generate through Google Forms may be incorporated into the choice of what problem to tackle.

Another method of making group selections is through Student Response Systems. See a review: Seven Good Response Systems that Work with All Devices.


Creativity and Innovation

Task 1 of Learning and Innovation Skills: Creativity and Innovation

Questions in red are for participants to discuss.

Think Creatively

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Work Creatively with Others

  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes

Implement Innovations

What methods do you use to encourage student creativity and innovation?

Creative Projects| STEM Problem-Solving Challenges | Webquests

Much project-based learning can stimulate creativity and innovation; integration of the arts in the language curriculum can encourage creativity.  How does technology support the expression of creativity and innovation in your teaching? One example is students collaborating on the creation of a video to describe their school’s community.  

STEM (Science, Technology & Math Problem Solving Challenges Destination Imagination is one such model. Teachers can easily create their own challenge or use past challenges posted on sites such as this list of challenges based on children’s literature.

One integrative application of technology in the classroom is the use of WebQuests to encourage inquiry-oriented critical thinking, collaborative learning, and student motivation. A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. (Dodge)

“WebQuests of either short or long duration are deliberately designed to make the best use of a learner’s time. . . . WebQuests should contain at least the following parts:

  1. An introduction that sets the stage and provides some background information.
  2. task that is doable and interesting.
  3. A set of information sources needed to complete the task. Many (though not necessarily all) of the resources are embedded in the WebQuest document itself as anchors pointing to information on the World Wide Web. Information sources might include web documents, experts available via e-mail or realtime conferencing, searchable databases on the net, and books and other documents physically available in the learner’s setting. Because pointers to resources are included, the learner is not left to wander through webspace completely adrift.
  4. A description of the process the learners should go through in accomplishing the task. The process should be broken out into clearly described steps.
  5. Some guidance on how to organize the information acquired. This can take the form of guiding questions, or directions to complete organizational frameworks such as timelines, concept maps, or cause-and-effect diagrams as described by Marzano (1988, 1992) and Clarke (1990).
  6. conclusion that brings closure to the quest, reminds the learners about what they’ve learned, and perhaps encourages them to extend the experience into other domains.” (Dodge, “Some thoughts about WebQuests”)


“A real WebQuest….

  • is wrapped around a doable and interesting task that is ideally a scaled down version of things that adults do as citizens or workers.
  • requires higher level thinking, not simply summarizing. This includes synthesis, analysis, problem-solving, creativity and judgment.
  • makes good use of the web. A WebQuest that isn’t based on real resources from the web is probably just a traditional lesson in disguise. (Of course, books and other media can be used within a WebQuest, but if the web isn’t at the heart of the lesson, it’s not a WebQuest.)
  • isn’t a research report or a step-by-step science or math procedure. Having learners simply distilling web sites and making a presentation about them isn’t enough.
  • isn’t just a series of web-based experiences. Having learners go look at this page, then go play this game, then go here and turn your name into hieroglyphs doesn’t require higher level thinking skills and so, by definition, isn’t a WebQuest. “(

See “Why WebQuests?” and a complete guide to using this technique:

Annotated examples of WebQuests 

Bernie Dodge, the creator of WebQuests, made this “Webquest about Webquests” for a teacher workshop. In it, teachers evaluate web quests. The following videos are from Dodge’s WebQuests site.

How to design a WebQuest

Questgarden – a free web editor for WebQuests

Search on Questgarden by topic


Keeping up with the Digital Revolution in the Language Classroom

21st Century teachers of English as a Second Language are faced with the dual challenges of helping their students master academic skills in a new language and utilize the tools provided by modern technology to further their learning and facilitate their achievement. Language and the thinking skills referred to as 21st Century Skills (as proposed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) are necessary for success in the 21st Century workplace. This workshop is aimed at showing how the development of these skills can be supported through the use of technology in the second language classroom.

Specifically, this workshop explores the “Learning and Innovation Skills” component of 21st Century Skills, which is divided into these areas:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and Collaboration

We’ll focus on three sample tasks, using freely available (open-source) applications. Only basic computer literacy on the part of the teacher is required for these activities.

Task 1 (Creativity and Innovation): Develop or adapt a Webquest challenge relevant to the content area of the class.

Task 2 (Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, Communication): Introduce digital storytelling by using presentation software with additional multimedia content: narration, audio, or video.

Task 3 (Communication & Collaboration): Start a shared blog, Pinterest Board, or Twitter feed for your class.

Implementing EFL Standards for China

I co-authored the Integrating EFL Standards Into Chinese Classroom Settings Series, described below.

[from] The four books in this series were written to inspire and support all Chinese English-language educators. They combine the best of traditional Chinese teaching with the Ministry of Education’s call for new and creative approaches to instruction.

Features, in Chinese and English:

  • Learner and teacher performance standards developed specifically for this series
  • Stories that show how standards for learning and teaching may be woven into actual classroom experience in China
  • Lesson outlines and graphic organizers
  • Glossary of useful teaching techniques for Chinese teachers of school-age learners
  • Reflection and action worksheets for putting techniques into practice

These features offer Chinese teachers, administrators, and supervisors a dynamic approach to good teaching.

The complete series includes:


Integrating EFL Standards Into Chinese Classroom Settings

  • Primary Level, Grades 3-6 (ISBN 0-07-293341-0)
  • Junior Level, Grades 7-9 (ISBN 0-07-293344-5)
  • Senior Level, Grades 10-12 (ISBN 0-07-293346-1)

Portfolio-Based Professional Development and Appraisal

  • Teachers’ Handbook (ISBN 0-07-293343-7)

Background of China English as a Foreign Language Standards (CEFLS) Project

CEFLS was a 30-month standards-development, materials writing, and teacher education project. Three organizations collaborated on this project: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), with headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States; The McGraw-Hill Companies, with headquarters in New York City, New York, in the United States; and National Foreign Language Teaching and Research Association (NFLTRA), with headquarters in Beijing, China.

Teacher Performance Standards (PDF)

The CEFLS project’s teacher performance standards are built around eight domains. These domains are derived from research into previously published standards as well as the reflections of CEFLS writers, reviewers, and associates on the characteristics of good teaching.

To create these teacher performance standards, CEFLS participants consulted the Chinese Ministry of Education’s (MOE) English Curriculum Standards (2003). CEFLS was specifically inspired by the stated desire to “change the formal teaching methods that emphasize grammar and vocabulary teaching and ignore the cultivation of language use” (MOE, 2003, p. 1). CEFLS continues the curriculum’s emphasis on learner and teacher attitudes, engaging the students’ interests, task-based learning, and performance objectives.

Learner Content Standards (PDF)

The CEFLS Project’s learner content standards correlate to the Chinese Ministry of Education’s (MOE) English Curriculum Standards (2003) and form a harmonious overlay with the MOE’s standards. These content standards for learners provide a concise, clear, and complete statement of the outcomes toward which Chinese EFL teachers may guide their students. They offer teachers a supportive structure along with the freedom to pursue the outcomes in their own creative ways and though whatever resources are at their disposal.


Native Language Revitalization

Presentation at East Coast Organization of Language Testers

Choctaw language assessment summary
This poster summarizes the development of language assessments in the Choctaw language.

Choctaw_ECOLT_Poster (click to download pdf)

Funded by a grant under the Bureau of Indian Education’s 6111 grant to support the development of an Alternate Definition of Adequate Yearly Progress in Choctaw, The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians developed and approved a set of Choctaw Language Learning Standards in 2012.  These are based on the ACTFL “Five Cs” in that they include the three types of communication (Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational) in addition to Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.  The presenters were members of a team developing Choctaw Language Learning Standards, ensuring they are horizontally and vertically aligned and reflect the traditions and cultural heritage of the Tribe.

Following completion of the standards, the presenters assisted in the development of a Choctaw Language Learning Standards-based model oral Choctaw Language Assessment for Grade 2. The process of developing assessments was initiated through workshops with Choctaw Assistant Teachers to identify domains of language use by students, consultation with an Assessment Development Team to identify speaking tasks, and consultation with a graphics artist to develop visual stimuli for the assessment. Development and translation of the administrator training manual and the structure of the pilot test administrator workshop is also discussed.

Pilot testing and subsequent analysis and revision of the standards-based assessment are addressed in this poster. An oral summary will explain the importance of choosing culturally relevant assessment tasks;  aspects of the oral assessment administration; and the role of assessments in native language revitalization programs.


The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, led by Chief Phyliss J. Anderson,  operates the largest unified Reservation school system in the United States. The Choctaw Tribal School System has six elementary schools, one middle school and one boarding high school on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in east central Mississippi. The Choctaw schools are scattered over a four-county area and serve more than 1,700 students.