Rewarding Innovative Teaching: The Pearson ELT Teacher Award

In 1999, I had no idea I was about to start a life-long career in education. Having just left the Chicago Symphony Orchestra where I worked to raise funds from donors, I was really unsure of what to do with my life. While the CSO was interesting, I knew that I hated phone work making the call from Americorps inviting me to become a volunteer an offer that was hard to refuse. There are many ways a person can serve their country, some go into military services, other do public work, many head towards the Peacecorps, but I chose Americorps. As an Americorps volunteer I completed 2000 hours of volunteer service in the west side of Chicago working to develop arts and music programming at five different schools with a home base located at the Northwestern University Settlement House.

Being a volunteer in education made it clear to me that education was what I most wanted to do. Perhaps, most of all, because what I did with learners in Chicago for the two years I volunteered was as creative and innovative as possible. I worked with students from low income background, students with little to no English ability, immigrant parents trying to settle in America coming from a variety of situations.

There were so many creative projects: teaching metamorphosis by helping a class of 2nd graders raise mill worms, teaching geometry and mathematics by having 9th graders build polyhedrons with cardboard and rubber-bands, and teaching global community and culture by teaching 6 year olds how to make costumes and props representing a number of countries. I loved the challenge of creating interesting content and activities that were also meaningful and inspiring to learners. I took this love of creativity with me into language education where I have continued to develop unique learning activities designed to support language growth: using graphic organizers to help learners process readings (about weird and unusual animals) to understand or world,using youtube videos for writing prompts, or using lateral thinking techniques to encourage creative communication. If it can be done, I’ve tried.

Creativity and innovation keep good teachers motivated and help prevent fatigue and burnout. During my career I’ve met thousands of other engaged and unique teachers with brilliant ideas for encouraging amazing growth in their classrooms. And now, there is a chance for those teachers to be recognize for their contributions. This week, Pearson English launched the Pearson ELT Teacher Award. The award is open to English teachers everywhere in the world. It’s free to enter your application and, those who are identified leaders of innovation in ELT will have an opportunity to attend TESOL 2017 or IATEFL 2017 for free! As a note, one of the esteemed judges is none other than David Nunan.

I know so many great teachers out there, so I hope you will take a moment to apply and then share this application with your peers and colleagues. I’ll be at TESOL 2017 and I hope to see you there.

The Pearson ELT Teacher Award: Application and Information

Rubrics, Assessment and the Global Scale of English

scaleI’m working on a series of teacher’s resource type blog on how teachers can use the free Global Scale of English tools in their classroom. The thing I like best about the GSE is that it’s free and teachers can do whatever they want with it. My kind of resource.


In this blog post I discuss creating rubrics, how to use rubrics to assess performance in the classroom, and then how to use the GSE to create externally validated rubrics for improved
insight into level of learner performance. All taking advantage of the free resources available to teachers. Have a look!

“A rubric is a pretty basic tool that a teacher uses to assess performance … but where does the GSE fit into all of this? For me, the most obvious place is in helping to define performance and create descriptors. As the GSE largely describes the use and application around the four English skills  without providing a specific context. This makes it a great place to start for understanding the performance I want to see in my classroom. Rather than the coursebook deciding, or my using my general sense of performance, the GSE gives me a clear indication of the difference in performance at different points along a learner’s learning journey aligned to a specific stops along the CEFR scale.”

Planning Outcomes Based Content

I’ve been on a roll lately writing about how to plan and prepare outcomes based content using the Global Scale of English descriptors. For me, the value of the GSE descriptors is not that they demonstrate linear progression or try to prescribe learning (they don’t, note even close) it’s that they exist at all as a repository that I can draw from to create content.

With that in mind, I was over the moon to find out that the GSE is now even easier to use with the teacher tool kit. Pearson asked me how teacher would use it, and I didn’t hestitate to toss together 2000 words on the subject.

Read more about it here:

The GSE provided a new strategy for planning. My coursebook can cover the basic work and I’m free to generate interesting ideas for classroom activities that will really challenge my learners. Even though the group I’m working with is at a B1 level, I planned a B2-level activity around a GSE descriptor. At the B1 reading level, my students would read and process information from a problem-solution essay. My coursebook provides several good examples and structured activities to build the skill, reducing the work I have to do. Now, for the challenge. I selected the following B2-level skill from the GSE toolkit:

Can critically evaluate the effectiveness of a simple problem-solution essay (GSE 61, B2 (59–66)).

This will allow the class to go beyond the surface application of the skill. For the activity, I selected a piece of authentic content, an op-ed piece from the newspaper, a great example of someone explaining a problem and presenting their argument for the best solution. The lesson plan practically wrote itself.


Global Scale of English for Academic Purposes: Granular Insight into the CEFR

I really don’t know how this managed to get missed on my personal page, since I’ve been living and breathing this for the last year. In fact, this particular project is why I was in Korea. What I’m talking about is the Global Scale of English, or what I think of as the GSE for short, a project I’ve been able to work on and inform for the last year. Not only am I pleased to have been a part of this project, I’m happy to continue, and think this is something teachers around the world will find beneficial.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I believe a lot in assessment, and the GSE is going to be a game changing tool when it comes to understanding performance and assessment. The reality is, we really need to have something like the GSE in our lives as teachers.


Have you ever heard of the CEFR or the Common European Framework of Reference? Possibly, probably, most likely using this in some way to level material and choose materials for your class. The CEFR is a great tool for communicating where our students currently are in terms of the ability to use English and the progress they are making in English. But, and here is the big BUT!, it doesn’t really give us granular insight into where learners are at in the language learning journey.

Think about it this way: if I were to ask you on the Celsius scale at what temperature water becomes a solid, you probably know the answer, 0C. If I ask you to tell me about when water becomes a gas, you probably also know the answer, 100C. We have terms that describe where we are at on a scale of measurement like a thermometer. Solid, describes the bottom of the scale, liquid the top. Everything else in-between, though, is just a liquid. Of course, the thermometer helps us out be giving us information about where liquid might be. I know, for example, if I’m cooking a soup, I want my liquid to be between 80 and 90 degrees. If I want to go swimming, I hope the liquid I’m planning to take a dip in is closer to a pleasant 22 to 30 degrees. These degrees give us real insight into where liquid is at, and how close a liquid might be to being either ice or soup.

In language learning we have similar words, like ice and gas, to describe our leanrers. Thanks to the CEFR we can say A1 now instead of beginner, or C1 instead of advanced. But the measurement in-between A1 and C2 is the real challenge. If I start working with someone at an A1, I know they are at the beginning of their journey. I could work with them for six months and this learner may still be an A1 level learner. Does that mean they have not improved? No, of course not. They have made improvements, but how do I see it? Enter, the Global Scale of English.

With the GSE, we can still use our big umbrella terms, but now I can give a peer, administrator or student, more specific information in relation to that learners performance. If my freshmen students start their course at B1 and finish the semester at B1 it looks like I haven’t been very successful as a teacher. However, if I know that they started the semester at B1 GSE 52 and now they are B1 GSE 55, you know we have done some work and change is happening.

That is what the GSE does, it gives teacher granular insight into their courses and programs, to provide accurate detailed information about a learners performance. Not only is this useful, it’s super helpful when it comes to choosing course material, understanding our impact on learners, understanding our learners process and acquisition, and creating content and assessments. We need this to improve our teaching and help our learners achieve more.

The GSE provides that insight, divided into the four skill areas (Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing) and leveled against the CEFR. This leveling accomplished through input from thousands of teachers in the field. This is, really and truly, the first universal and global scale of English.

Here is a great example that shows you a bit more about how this works:

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Even better? Pearson is providing the Global Scale of English Learning Objectives to the education community in the public domain. This means we can use the GSE to align our courses, check our content, make our tests, and build new content, understanding where it maps on the CEFR and the GSE, and we can talk about it without fear! I love this thing. I am super excited to build content  with the GSE. Aside from being able to help build this project, as a teacher practitioner, I want to use the GSE personally, and I want to share it with all my teaching friends.

Right now there are two sets of GSE Objectives available. One is for General Adults, anyone taking a general English course. You can download that set of learning objectives here:

The GSE that I have influenced the most is the GSE for Academic Purposes. This is great for anyone working with the college students, university students, or students who are on a college track. Are you teaching English to middle school or high school students who want to complete their degree at a university where English is the language of study? Then this is for you. You can download the GSE for Academic Purposes here:

I will be sharing some more lesson plans, leveled to the GSE as examples fairly soon, hopefully something to look forward to. Enjoy, repost, share, steal, and create new level content!


And….coming soon there will be a GSE for Professional Purposes (Business English, etc) and we are working on something for Young Learners. Stay Tuned!

Teaching with the Four Skills: An In-depth Review

Of the two webinar sessions I completed, I really enjoyed this. I love everything to do with 21st Century teaching, but teaching around the four skills is equally important. Using the CEFR (and the 7 distinct skills in the CEFR) I explore four skills classrooms that any teacher could design. This session includes four examples of four skills lessons, and the writing lesson is focused on writing in interaction, an often neglected skill.

How can you use all four skills in your classroom, while making sure your students are getting the best possible English learning experience? Take a listen!

Feel free to enjoy and share.

Download (PPT, Unknown)

Download the webinar here: Four Skills Teaching (204 mbps)


And thanks again Pearson, for giving me the opportunity to share this file!