Monday, 7 January 2013

Web Profiles

Well, it's back to the grind once more. I arrived back at work on the third for a day of speeches and workshops and Working Stuff Out On Flipchart Paper. Reading College is actually not bad at delivering lots of CPD - there's quite a variety, although it does tend to be aimed at newer teachers, I find. In fact, I have delivered CPD sessions myself, something I quite enjoy. It's always nice to do the teacher equivakent of a Show and Tell, and have your work recognised.
Doing one of the training sessions last week, however, I was a little surprised to see a worksheet with something a bit familiar on it. A web of some kind.
'Right, we've got these here', said the CPD leader in our room, 'Now, what I think you've got to do with these is draw a little spider on them, showing where you think your department are in relation to one of these key criteria....'
I looked at the diagram. There was no doubt about it - it was MY idea. The trouble was, it was a poor imitation of it, and the person leading the exercise didn't understand it!
What a bloody cheek.
Now, I wouldn't mind if they'd acknowledged my name somewhere - I feel ideas should be shared, within reason. I also wouldn't have minded so much if they'd deployed it correctly, which they didn't. It was the combination of using the idea poorly and no acknowledgement which really narked me.
So, I hear you cry, what is this idea then?
Simple: It's a Web Profile, or a GLAW (Global Language/Learning Ability Web) Profile, and I'm going to share with you how it works.
The idea came out of a problem I'd been toying with during tutorial sessions with my students - how do you show a learner's ability and progress in the different areas of skills and systems (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary and Grammar) in relation to each other?
I began by toying with circles and blocks - the idea being that the bigger the circle or block, the greater the learner's knowledge of the skill or system represented. Then I reasoned that learning a language is all about expanding knowledge - that is, it is a holistic experience: In order to represent this, you need something that expands from a middle point.
After toying with circles and different gradients of colour, I then thought about segments to represent the different skills and systems we expect a learner to become proficient in, and suddenly, this was born:
In short, a simple web. Here's how it works. Let's label it with our skills and systems:
In this example, I've put the receptive skills on the left, the productive on the right and vocabulary and grammar at the bottom. I should point out that this is the simple version: We could quite easily break down vocabulary, for example, into passive and active knowledge (or at least that's what a couple of my students did when presented with this - but more on that later).
We then add the levels of knowledge. In the diagram below, I've used the CEFR scales from A1 to B2 as an example, with A1 representing the centre of the web and so on outwards:
Of course, we could use ESOL levels from E1 to L2, or add extra external layers to the web. We could also use criteria like the IELTS score scales or TOEFL boundaries. The whole point is that the web, as it expands, indicates greater profiency in the learner's language knowledge and mastery.
So, how do we use it? Simplicity itself: You just colour in the segments. So, you might have a learner who you judge to be at B1 as a speaker, but hasn't reached that level in writing. You just shade in the appropriate level. What immediately becomes apparent is the relationship between the different skills and systems - for example, someone who is poor in reading is likely to also have poor vocabulary, while someone else may have excellent grammar knowledge but finds it difficult to be productive.
We can also use two or more colours, to represent whether a learner's use of a particular area is weak, emergent or consolidated. In the (slightly exaggerated) example below, I've used a two-colour system (basically two flourescent markers ):

The beauty of this system is that it visually represents the learner's global, holistic use of a language. I have given these to students to complete themselves, then got them to compare their ideas with my own. During tutorials, it really allows the learner to understand which areas they need to focus on, and the relationships between the different areas that make up language.
However, it doesn't stop there: this profiling system can easily be adapted to other learning areas as well - indeed, several teachers in my college are looking how it can be used to help their students in areas such as Maths, Digital Photography and Plumbing!
We can also make it even more complex - for example, I did play around with adding all the key 'Can Do' statements for CEFR on it seeking to highlight specific targets, but keeping it simple seems to work better.
And THAT is how this is meant to work!
Feel free to experiment with it and use it - all I ask is a little acknowledgement :)


Marisa Constantinides said...

Nice idea - good for input on self-evaluations and could work with trainee teachers as well naming the blocks differently

Is this the first time you publish this please, in case anyone needs to refer to it?

Thank you for sharing it


paul said...

Hi Marisa, thanks for the comment. This is the first time I've published it publicly, although I did a couple of workshops presenting the idea back in 2010 when I'd first devised it.
Feel free to use and adapt it - that's the whole idea! :)


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