14b. City Lit

Task-Based Learning

Centre for Universal Skills – City Lit

This project asked how task-based learning (TBL) might effect an immersive, productive and motivating experience for learners and promote the most in-demand common work skills such as problem-solving, collaborating and analysing. What is task-based learning and how does it differ across hearing and Deaf learning, ESOL and English, higher and lower levels? Would task-based targets prove meaningful for learners and tutors alike and improve their involvement in recording and recognising progress and achievement in non-accredited courses (RARPA)?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The Centre for Universal Skills (US) aims to enable adults to develop the capabilities needed to participate, make progress and express themselves in a 21st century democracy. Our challenge is to develop a pedagogy aligned to this intent. We contended that a situated orientation meets this challenge, so that the task at hand draws learners in, demands they adopt a stance and frames the learning. Our focus on task-based learning was informed by a range of thinking and research, particularly Willis (1996) and Willis and Willis (2007). What does such an approach involve and how does it contrast with the presentation-practice-production (PPP) model? How would learning-targets, configured in a task-focused way, create a motivating experience for learners in contrast to more instrumentalised target-setting? Would such targets encourage learners to invest in and complete the tasks and enable them to relate their learning to wider purposes than solely linguistic ones?

Other Contextual Information

We investigated task-based learning (TBL) in two English classes for Deaf learners, Entry Level 3 and Level 2, and in Hearing classes for Pre-entry English and maths, Level 1 English, Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 ESOL and Cambridge Advanced. The classes were a mixture of online and face-to-face. Over 50 learners and eight tutors were involved.


Our approach mirrored a task-based learning experience: pre-task, task, evaluation and focus.

A) Pre-task. We discussed the principles of TBL, in particular performance before competence and meaning before form: what do these mean and how could they be materialised? However, in accordance with a TBL approach, discovering these answers was an aim of the project, to be achieved through the doing.

Tutors then decided whether they would focus on a task-based approach within the classroom or on task-based learning targets.

Some tutors also met with a more experienced tutor to discuss their ideas. This mentor was on-hand throughout the research to aid with reflections.

A Google Classroom was created for tutors to add their thoughts, film their reflections and add learners’ work.

B) The following tasks were worked on:

a) Entry Level 3 and Level 2 Deaf English classes:
• writing and sending a letter to an actual person, including visiting the post-office and engaging with a hearing non-BSL using employee
• creating live social media posts and commenting on each other’s posts
• fundraising for Children in Need including creating a YouTube video, setting up a crowdfunding page, redesigning the Pudsey Bear logo
• creating a chat show to evaluate task-based learning.

b) Pre-entry English and maths (hearing)
• taking photos of prices in shops and of receipts to use as a basis for maths work
• sending different messages to former teaching assistants, family members, friends and each other such as Christmas card messages, good luck messages, condolences
• independently writing and sending an email to a friend.

c) English for Life Level 1 (hearing)
• researching and writing a music review.

d) English Dialogue course (ESOL Level1- Level 2 hearing)
• writing and performing a play.

e) ESOL Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 (hearing)
• giving a presentation as part of their individual targets.

f) Cambridge English (hearing)
• individual tasks.

C) Final evaluation and focus on what has been learned
There was ongoing reflection by the tutors and, to a lesser extent, the learners. These were recorded in writing or video on the Google Classroom. Final surveys were also sent out to all participants and focus meetings held. The Deaf Level 2 learners created a chat show in which they reflected on their projects.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The most striking effect of the approach was the engagement and involvement of the learners. They became caught up and directed by the tasks: it was the tasks themselves that motivated and made demands of the learners calling them into being as learners and creators of the class. The most immediate jolting aspect of this approach took place in the Deaf English classes through the seemingly simple task of writing and posting a letter to someone. As the tutor said:

They all struggled to grasp that I was asking them to do something real and actually wanted them to write and post the letter.

a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people

The learners would normally have had someone else do this for them. They were also struck by their need to role play communicating with a non-BSL using post-office worker. However, once thrown into the task, the learners found a way to communicate, particularly those who had struggled with the more abstract tasks of non-TBL classes. They began to develop strategies for communicating with hearing people. (See Appendix 2)

This strategy-building was also manifest in the Children in Need project. Within the fundraising, some learners set themselves the challenge of communicating with hearing strangers asking for directions without the aid of phones or writing, and of creating and editing a video of the process. The demands of the task overall effected a generative creativity – setting up a Just Giving webpage, creating a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people, printing the logo on t-shirts to wear during the challenge, baking a Pudsey Bear cake, writing to the BBC and raising £395. Learners even extended the task to outside class time. One group spent a whole Sunday working with a videographer friend on their video, while another learner, usually reticent about homework, made a video of himself at work doing story-time with some hearing children whilst he used signs and no voice. He was amazed how well they could understand each other.

Similarly striking, if less dramatic, were the effects of task-oriented learning on the hearing

Our learner led bake sale.

Level 1 English learners, in particular how they engaged with each other’s work on music reviews on an extremely intimate level, open to each other’s comments and exchanging views.

The task-based targets were in many ways more challenging. Learners found it particularly difficult to move away from a solely linguistic focus such as “I need to improve my phrasal verbs.” However, when learners did contextualise, their tasks became enriched and purposeful such as researching and presenting ‘how to improve my English in four months’, ‘what I need to do in order to apply for an NHS apprenticeship’, and ‘how to become a stand-up comedian’. One learner translated her own poems into English, another sang a song in English, another joined a cycling club and another researched how to become a teaching assistant and found such a job. Learners needed to determine the steps they had to take to complete their tasks. (See Appendices 3.2, 3.3, 3.4)

Organisational Development

This project enabled us to explore in concrete detail what task-based learning entails. We have been working on this approach for three years. The pedagogical intent has become clear. However, this research was very much tutor-led, thrived on exchange and has effected a practical comprehension of how TBL is not the ‘production’ part of presentation-practice-production (PPP). The discourse of TBL is now much better instituted, allowing debate and discussion cross-centre.

Tutors have led a dissemination session and are well-placed to work with other tutors on how to develop this approach across the provision. A key aspect of the project has been how tutors in the hearing and Deaf area have collaborated and how enthusiastically most Deaf learners responded to tasks. Although TBL has been practised in the hearing classes for a while, this practice was far less prevalent in Deaf English and maths. Now, this provision can be seen to be leading the way.

Finally, an outcome of the project is likely to be a different way in which we carry out Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) at least on some courses, to enable a more organic approach. Tutors developed plans to reflect more readily a TBL pedagogy and we will move forward with these in 2022-23.

Learning from this project

The most important learning from the project is that task-based learning and target-setting are effective in enabling learners to develop the key life and work skills they need to participate and make progress in a democratic society. We learned that, when the task is right, learners will create and run with the activity, will learn, and will support each other through the task accomplishment. In so doing, learners will achieve well beyond the constraints of more traditional classroom ambitions and that it is not necessary to separate off linguistic elements from the context which demands their use.

In addition, we learned that a move away from the fixation on the ‘SMARTness’ of targets and a focus on the purposes of learners’ learning – the types of activities they need to do not as vehicles for language improvement but as ends in themselves – produced work that was interesting and engaging for learners and gave them a sense of achievement.

Most significantly, we discovered what the idea of TBL is and how it can work.

However, we also learned that we have a lot more to discover, investigate and discuss. Questions which have emerged from the research include:

  • How exactly are TBL classes set up so that the task is not solely a practice of, or a vehicle for, a language form but something that occasions discovery and learning? What is the balance between meaning and form? What is the role of staging?
  • Why might the same task produce a lot of work and creativity with one group but not with another?
  • How to set up classes so that learners can decide more readily on their task-based targets. What pre-task activities facilitate this and obviate the teacher’s telling or explaining what these types of tasks are?
  • How can learners more readily articulate their aims in terms of social practices rather than linguistic forms and how can they better join means to ends? (See Appendix 3.5)
  • How well does TBL work for pre-entry groups? What form if any should it take? (See Appendix 3.6).

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project reminded us to dig deeper to find out more about learners’ lives and what they want to achieve outside of the classroom. Rather than focusing on isolated language points, this project emphasised the need to think about the bigger picture and the purpose of the class. We discovered the value of frequent reference to the tasks and constant encouragement. Providing space for learners to discuss their aims openly raised their aspirations as they took encouragement from each other. Fostering peer support and developing common work-skills through TBL enabled different learners to respond in their own ways and participate accordingly.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    One of the key aspects of the project was how tutors shared their understandings, discoveries, surprises, plus points and negative points – such as how learners responded to being asked to do something outside the classroom, how learners could be motivated to complete their task-targets, how the original ILP did or did not lend itself to the task-based targets, etc. Just as learners took on responsibilities related to the tasks, so did tutors who went beyond what they might normally have done regarding evaluation of learning and recording learners’ progress.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    The project responded to this standard in two ways. Firstly, through learners’ setting of task-oriented goals and the steps needed to achieve them, they invested in their own learning to achieve meaningful goals. With certain learners there was far more investment in their targets than previously. However, the project also showed that responsibility for learning emerges best when the responsibility is shouldered and directed by the task itself so learners are not placed in a position of being (solely) responsible for their learning but are responding to the needs of the task. The key challenge is to establish a task which suitably involves the learner.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Resources and Reflections


Edwards, C., and J. Willis. (eds.)., (2005). Teachers Exploring Tasks in ELT. Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan.
Prabhu N.S., (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nunan D., (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., (2003). Rules, Patterns and Words: Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., and Willis, J., (1987). ‘Varied activities for variable language.’ ELT Journal 41/1: 12-18.
Willis D. and Willis, J., (2007). Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis J., (1996). A Framework for Task-based Learning. Harlow: Longman Pearson Education.

14a. BCOT

Improving feedback for assessments

Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT)

This project aimed to explore whether feedback could be improved for GCSE and ESOL written tasks using a software extension called Mote. We predominantly chose a cohort of 16-19 year old GCSE resit learners for the GCSE research group. The ESOL group was a cohort of adults completing an ESOL Entry Level 2 Skills for Life qualification.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our intention was to identify a digital approach for GCSE and ESOL learners that would work for learner feedback, development and target setting. Learners do not often read the feedback provided in their books, or after assessments, and written feedback is very time consuming (we have over 100 learners each). We intended to create a digital learning feedback journal using Mote software. This tool allows teachers to add voice comments to Google documents. We were intending for learners to listen to the teacher feedback and then reflect and record what their next steps were.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. It took place in the English department of our FE college, where we worked with two groups of 16-19 full time GCSE learners and one part time class of adult ESOL Entry Level 2 learners. GCSE learners were using the feedback given to set targets and understand any gaps in their learning. ESOL learners used the same feedback tool but were also able to read the transcript and then translate into their chosen language. BCoT has embraced technology during the pandemic and we used Mote previously on tasks submitted digitally. Our intention was to attempt digital feedback on handwritten assessments.


We knew that we wanted to improve and streamline marking and feedback processes but knew that some learners would be more receptive than others. All existing learners from BCoT had been used to online delivery (some had used the Mote tool before as a method of feedback). The majority of learners who were in their first year from leaving school had not heard of, or used, Mote before.

Due to the success of using online tools in the pandemic and trying to steer away from a school approach, we decided upon this new approach for written task feedback.

GCSE learners:

Two different groups of learners for GCSE were chosen. Both groups consisted of learners who had achieved grade 3. One class was working at a higher level than the other. In total 20 GCSE learners were chosen to be provided with online feedback. Not all learners engaged in the feedback given. Following an initial and diagnostic assessment, all learners had to complete three additional progress tests and a set of mocks throughout the academic year. We chose to:

  • Provide a Mote audio recording for up to 3 minutes – the feedback followed the form of What went well (WWW) and Even Better If (EBI). It included how to answer certain questions, use different vocabulary and how to improve their responses.
  • This was for all learners.
  • This feedback was available as a transcript.
  • This was listened to by learners and targets set.
  • We followed the same process for all three progress tests.

Feedback from one of the GCSE learner A who gained a Grade 4 in the November exams:

I listened to my progress and targets from my verbal feedback. I was able to then share this feedback with both Emily and Jane during my extra English sessions… I think feedback from teachers will help me with getting the skills needed to find a part time job and improve my job at the radio station.

ESOL learners:
An Entry Level 2 class of 15 part-time ESOL learners were chosen. They completed a writing initial assessment in class. The teacher marked the spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) errors on their writing but did not write the customary feedback on their work. Instead, they recorded the feedback for each learner and produced an individualised QR code which was inserted into a presentation (see Appendix 3a). The presentation was shown in the next class and the learners were able to come to the board and scan their code (each code was labelled) with their phones so they could listen to the feedback on their phones. The feedback consisted of what went well and how they could improve on their next piece of writing. The focus was on constructive feedback. The learners then completed another writing activity and the teacher analysed this to ascertain whether they had taken into account the feedback given previously.

Functional skills English:
We also used Mote for a small number of learners resitting their Functional Skills English writing exams to pinpoint areas for improvement to assist them in the resit. The Mote feedback was sent as an MP3 recording to their learner email.

Feedback from Functional Skills learner C:

As a learner at BCOT, I was very impressed when I used Mote, it was incredibly easy to use and the instructions were easy to follow. One of the things I like about Mote is that I can quickly clearly hear feedback. In my opinion, voice comments are more clearly understood because you can hear the teacher’s tone of voice and the nuances of what they are saying. I would 100% recommend this product to teacher’s and other learners.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The methodology of the research changed during the project. We were hoping for an ongoing journal for learners, but we were unable to find a platform that provided this. Instead, we used Mote for the three progress tests for English and in preparation for the ESOL exams. As Mote was developed, we used the tool for additional things such as voice-based questionnaires, the use of QR codes and voice instructions. We found that most learners engaged with the tools offered, but we realised that some just could not show the ability, or the enthusiasm, to work on feedback. We have a number of learners that have sat the exam more than twice. Their confidence has been reduced as a result of them being expected to resit the GCSE year on year. A minority just found the Mote process too difficult to understand, or were not able to understand the correct tool to listen to the feedback offered.

Throughout the process we gained feedback from learners to assess the impact on their learning. The activities chosen worked with the two types of learners identified, but we now need to identify how we can implement this across the entire cohort. We need to ensure that the teaching and support staff are given appropriate training and support to enable them to deliver and assess in the future.

We have had a number of successes with the Mote feedback. The learners have enjoyed scanning the QR codes and listening to the feedback. We have some case studies where learners have stated that the feedback has directly impacted their learning and future skills. We have also managed to use Mote to embed in Google Slides as verbal instructions and for all class feedback.

There have also been barriers. Not all learners have the access to a QR reader on their mobile device. We do also embed feedback by using ‘hypermotes’ but then the learners have to log on to a laptop and find the document. This can be lengthy and confusing for some. It can take 10 minutes to listen to the document where it would have been instant for written feedback, or teacher 1:1 verbal feedback. Additionally, many learners do not have access to headphones and it can be the case that they would rather listen to it when they return home and they may forget to play the feedback. If we play it in the lesson, they can then hear 20 versions of the teacher giving individualised feedback.

Moving forward, we will continue to use Mote but will use it alongside other forms of feedback such as peer and self-marking. It is still a ‘work in progress’ as we have yet to find the right approach to using this for paper-based tasks. It works effortlessly when learners create a typed response using Google Docs as we highlight the text and then record the relevant feedback.

Lastly, we still need to work with how to store and track the progress made as a result of the recordings provided. We can see who opens the recordings – but need to understand how and why it may improve their English skills. We also need to understand the next steps in supporting learner progress. We have attempted this during the year but have not created an accurate tracking system.

Organisational Development

We went into the project with an ambition to change and streamline our marking process for all GCSE and ESOL learners; however, the numbers were too great. By choosing smaller groups of learners across different abilities we were able to identify who benefited from the project. It was great to see the ESOL learners embrace the feedback given and we feel this is only the beginning for them. Working with the ESOL department and understanding how the learners developed their skills will be ongoing after this project concludes. We were able to work closely with the Mote team to evaluate the correct tools for our learners and suggest improvements for future releases of the app. Elsewhere in the organisation, colleagues are using Mote effectively for digitally produced assignments and we will have shared our experiences using the same tool, but on paper-based assessments.

Learning from this project

We have enjoyed the project and have realised that Mote is a very useful tool for feedback. As the project developed, we soon discovered that we could use the tool for many other purposes.

The main challenge we found was the quantity of individualised feedback we had to record and share with the learners. Every GCSE lesson is three hours long and during that time a task is completed by the learners. At first, we found that we could not record the feedback on a weekly basis for these 20 learners for each lesson. When the lesson had finished, we then had to record the feedback. It was more time efficient to continue with our usual methods of in class feedback such as peer marking, all class feedback and face to face feedback as the teacher checked learners’ work during class.

Instead, we chose to use the Mote feedback method on the three progress tests for GCSE. This was much more effective and straightforward as we had to provide clear feedback to enable them to improve their practice. Similarly, the same approach was used with the ESOL team as they delivered the feedback following the assessments that took place during the year. We were using this for the paper-based assessment and when learners received the marked paper they had the audio Mote feedback to listen to whilst looking through WWW/EBI.

We attempted to use a Google form for group feedback following one of the progress tests. Each question from the test had a Mote recording explaining what worked well overall as a class and what needed to be worked on. Learners were then asked to set a target for each question where they achieved less than 50%. Due to the length of the feedback the recordings lasted for about 15 minutes and many learners struggled to retain the information.
We loved using the QR codes and these became easier to use and embed for feedback following a number of meetings with the developers. In the ESOL classes, QR codes were displayed on the class whiteboard under each individual learner and they were able to scan and listen within the lesson.

We went on to use the QR codes for other tasks as well as providing feedback. Most recently, we developed Top Tips for English GCSE revision and these were added as QR codes and posted around the College and on the Google classroom.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Our project gave learners different opportunities to engage with the feedback provided and understand how they could make changes to improve their writing. Strategies were put in place as a form of target setting. As a result of giving feedback for three progress assessments, learners were able to identify their target areas and undertake differentiated revision activities to enable them to succeed.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    We are always trying to improve our process for teaching, assessment and feedback.
    As Kay (2021) states:

    “Less is more…if teachers want learners to take notice of feedback, it needs to be short, specific and clear.”

    “Keep it focused…on the task and let learners know specifically what they can do to develop their work.”

    We wanted to ensure that we were providing this using the audio Mote feedback. As part of the feedback process we gave specific actions to enable the learners to improve.

  • 18. Apply appropriate and fair methods of assessment and provide constructive and timely feedback to support progression and achievement.

    We have learned that all learners react to feedback dependent on their individual learning preferences. For those learners who have difficulty reading, it was a huge advantage for them to listen to audio recording. For the ESOL learners it was a fantastic tool where they were able to hear the audio to improve their English skills, transcribe into their own language to improve their vocabulary and then listen over and over to support their progression.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Resources and Reflections


Kay, J., (2021). Improving English and maths in further Education: A Practical guide. 1st ed. London: Open International Publishing LTD.

13c. ELATT

Supporting learner ownership and the formulation of authentic goals


With the launch of online Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) at ELATT, our aim was to ensure that learners and tutors had the tools and support they needed to formulate goals and to see value in the process.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Goal setting for adult learners is accepted as key to achievement and progress and is prominent in most Further Education (FE) funder requirements. However, it is also recognised that the specific requirements of the latter can lead to tutor-driven and formulaic goal setting across adult learning, with a loss of authenticity (Hinds, 2021).

Although this had not been an issue at ELATT, the rapid pivot to remote teaching two years ago complicated a paper-based process while tutors were having to adapt to new class dynamics online, all of which impacted upon the goal setting process.

However, with the introduction of an online platform for ILPs we identified the opportunity to go ‘back to basics’ on goal setting. We planned to draw on the experience of tutors who are strong in this area and support those who are less confident.

We aimed to get learners to see the value in goal setting by relating this to their lives and aspirations. This would form the basis for further skills development in supporting learners to break down larger goals into SMART steps.

Other Contextual Information

ELATT is an educational charity based in Hackney. Our model is to support learners in identifying and achieving their life goals by developing skills, knowledge and confidence. Our project reflects the ethos of ELATT and focuses on supporting learners to identify their life goals and formulate the smaller steps needed to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed.
We deliver programmes for adults and also have a small alternative provision sixth form, which has mainly SEND learners. Adult classes are mainly still online, while the sixth form is on-site.

Three sections took part in this action research:

  • an ESOL L1 class
  • a sixth form L1-L2 English/PSD class
  • an L2 Support Work in Schools course for ESOL learners.


A small project team with representatives from ESOL, sixth form English and Vocational was formed; two of the group had supported other tutors previously in goal setting.

See below for an overview of project activities:

  • 1

    Initial Stage

    • Survey of sector specific research into the use of ILPs and goal setting.
    • Project Team discussed their perceptions of learners’ attitudes to and issues with the existing ILP process to refine aims of project.
    • Whole staff CPD – a ‘back to basics’ on goal setting.
  • 2.

    Trialling different approaches

    • Development and trials of session plans using tools and texts discussed / introduced initial stage.
    • Workshop to discuss findings.
    • Development of further strategies based on this feedback with new team members liasing with the original team.


  • 3.

    Evaluating the impact of each approach

    • Assessment of the impact on learners e.g. understanding of the concepts, development of goal formulation skills.
    • Tutor reflections (Appendix 3)
    • Interviews with learners (Appendix 3)
    • Case studies (Appendix 2)
  • 4.

    Sharing the impact of each approach

    • Whole staff CPD session in which the different approaches are shared so next trial stage with all learners could be rolled out.
    • External CPD session to inspire next stage.
    • Training in the use of online ILP.


The three approaches trialled

The first approach used a motivational reading text entitled ‘Establishing Dreams’ by Jim Rohn. This was recommended by an ex-ELATT tutor who is also a life coach and who had used the text effectively with a range of people. The text was used as a reading/discussion activity, sometimes with supporting resources, before leading the learners into personal reflection and goal sharing.

The second approach adopted a journey metaphor based on an idea from Jane Ward’s work (2002). Learners related the metaphor to their own learning journeys and, through discussion, identified and shared goals and obstacles.

The third approach utilised peer and external support to provide the capacity for one-to-one discussion aimed at raising aspirations and stimulating discussion prior to goal formulation. This activity, which took place online, was enabled by volunteers from one of ELATT’s corporate partners. Learners prepared questions for the volunteers to learn about their goals and the volunteers were briefed about the aims of the session. Pairs were then directed into breakout rooms and given drop-in support by ELATT staff.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Our learners often failed to see the relevance of goal setting within the classroom setting or as connected to their life goals. The importance of ensuring that their goals reflected their interests and were sufficiently challenging to motivate their continued perseverance (Shechtman et al., 2013) couldn’t be underestimated. Consequently, we felt that we needed to explore the purpose of goal setting in different ways before moving on to activities which focused on breaking bigger goals down into smaller steps

Approaches 1 and 2

The trainer for our initial CPD provided the motivational text which encouraged the learners to identify dreams and aspirations. This text was then used by the project team both in its full form, in a shortened version and an adapted version for lower-level learners (Appendix 3a). One team member additionally created classroom resources to support understanding and vocabulary acquisition alongside goal setting.

The reading was well received by both adult and sixth form learners, with tutors reporting that it was an effective lead-in for prompting discussion, reflection and the formulation of life goals. While adult ESOL classes are approximately 80% female, the reverse is true for the sixth form, so this broad appeal was of interest. One sixth form learner spontaneously commented, “It gives me hope”.

Although, two of the three tutors who used this text reported not responding on a personal level to the text, both said that they would use it again due to its flexibility and universal appeal. Learner engagement with the text was positive. Frequently, our learners find it difficult to recall materials used in class, so we were pleased that when asked 3-4 months later about activities which helped with goal setting, most of the learners were able to remember the motivational text without prompting:

We did discussions and we also did reading [what’s happening] on a newspaper article about dreams.

– Sixth former

We read about our dream/ambition – what do I want to do in the future? We did our target after that.

– Adult ESOL

A delay in the introduction of the new online platform (ProPortal) meant that learners were not able to manage their ILPs independently during the research period. Unfortunately, this limited the ability to assess the effectiveness of the approach with ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparisons which are only now taking place.

The other tool trialled was a learning journey metaphor outlined in Appendix 3a. When comparing staff reflections on which of the approaches were more successful, we found that approach 1, the Jim Rohn text, was favoured as tutors felt that discussions remained focused and led naturally to the learner goal formulation (Appendix 3c).

Learners who took part in approach 1 developed quite strong and specific goals and generally were able to recall life and in-class goals with linkage:

Come in on time and work towards getting GCSEs. Improve punctuating and get credentials for future prospect.

– Sixth former

“My goal is to complete L2 [Level 2] but I also want IT course so I am doing that now. I will do L2 [ESOL] in September. My goal is a part-time job. I am full-time mum. I am looking at supermarket, my local area retail shop. … When I started I can’t speak one sentence, Now I can speak confidently and understand” (Adult ESOL).

One participating class was a group of seven ESOL learners on a 16-week basic teaching assistant course. Within a month of finishing the course, three were in work and another two were close to starting, which is a faster and higher percentage than usual. This cannot be definitively attributed to the goals focus but the same approach is being used for the latest class to see if the results can be replicated.

Approach 3 – 1:1 support

The learners in the group assigned to work one-to-one with volunteer mentors (see Appendix 3b) also responded positively.

It helped to hear the process of establishing and achieving goals verbally.

– Sixth former

I was able to show not only to others but to myself that I am capable.

– Sixth former

The tutor reported that the work undertaken in the workshop not only supported learner goal writing but also provided useful material for learners working on personal statements for further study or work placement applications.

Trials with all three approaches allowed plenty of time for class discussion with structured peer support, either in breakout sessions or as feedback when goals were shared.

Organisational Development

Discussions with learners from classes that did not take part in the project provided a useful comparison in how goal aware and motivated the learners were.
These learners were asked about their goals and experience of goal setting. They were found to have clear rationales for joining courses at ELATT and often referenced discussing these with their tutors:

Each of us has a time slot and we do one to one for 15 minutes. We set goals and aims. What we want to do in future. My goal is to work with children and find a job in school. I would like to be a maths teacher.

However, few learners referred spontaneously to individual in-course goals and those that did generally named a specific skill or course component. In addition, while learners regularly referred to supportive online relationships, “it is such a good community, you can ask the others “, these relationships were not referred to in the context of goals, targets or aspirations.

The follow-up CPD session at the beginning of semester two emphasised that sessions on goal setting are a good use of time and can be incorporated into sessions, particularly English and ESOL. In addition to the motivational text and supporting resources, a template that serves as a basis for class discussion and information sheet for learners was provided (Appendix 3d).

One further outcome was that the session plan for pairing sixth formers with corporate volunteer mentors was refocused and the new format received excellent feedback from both mentors and mentees. The aim was for learners to develop goals and work these into personal statements but, as one tutor commented:

Most learners are SEND and/or have anxiety issues, so this made it hard for them to open up. So, in preparation for the session, the learners prepared a list of questions to find out about their volunteer/mentor’s goals, aspirations and journeys.

Previously mentors and learners had often struggled to maintain dialogue but all reported productive and enjoyable sessions.

Learning from this project

The project has allowed us to take our time and really reflect upon the purpose of goal setting and how it should fit in with our ethos as an organisation. Rather than view the process as some necessary administrative task required to satisfy funding requirements, staff have relished the opportunity to revisit and reflect on how goal setting fits into their teaching as can be seen from the comment below.

This action research has changed the way I teach. I think more about how the learners learn, how to make them independent. It is something I have changed. I do a lot more on study skills and critical thinking. Goal setting – and everything else – now takes more time but it pays off. The learners know that achieving their goals is ultimately up to them and I cannot do it for them.
– LS Tutor

Feedback from both staff and learners has confirmed the need to adopt a more reflective approach in which learners are encouraged to focus on their long-term goals and aspirations as swiftly as possible. One of our sixth form tutors observed that their learners were:

.. familiar with the concept of goal setting through formal reviews, course targets and ad hoc goals, often around attendance and behaviour. However, it often (took) at least a year at ELATT for (them)to gain the confidence to express aspirations and plan steps to achieve (them).

We found that the same was true of many of our adult learners, who arrived at ELATT with firm goals, combined with an understanding of the goal setting process. This applies particularly to those who have mental health issues/other disabilities or those who have little experience outside the home. This is the learner quoted previously who is now looking for part-time retail work and who was described by her initial contact as ‘shy and isolated’:

I want to more better my speaking and listening. It is all thanks to ELATT.

As a result, we acknowledged that goal setting support has to be iterative – and success needs to be tracked over the long term. This finding was supported by Dr Marcin Lewandowski, whose PhD subject was learner goals, and who attended a February tutor meeting to share his experience.

Learners share their smart targets.

Goal setting in general, and specific, measured, achievable, realistic and timed targets (SMART) in particular, can be powerful tools which equip learners to progress on their courses and towards life goals. But forming SMART targets is not instinctive and may require considerable scaffolding. The example above is by a student who has been with ELATT for more than a year and is in his third iteration of SMART goal setting. Effective scaffolding in this area would be a further research activity.

An additional finding was that, prior to the research, we had assumed that tools and resources for adults and sixth formers would be different due to life experience, language and SEND factors but we found that the same resources and tools were largely effective. This very welcome finding has resulted in the different departments being motivated to collaborate and share resources.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

The professional standards strongly linked to this project are:

  •  Professional Standard 13: ‘motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression’
  • Professional Standard 17: ‘enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment’.

We wanted learners to take control of, and responsibility for, their own learning. The project was designed to take into account the fact that this would come more easily to some learners than others, depending on their previous educational experience, expectations of education, levels of confidence, as well as life experience. We also recognised that while our tutors are universally committed to their learners, there was variation in confidence and understanding of best practice in goal setting.

This project gave us the opportunity to investigate the current experience of learners across the organisation, trial tools and approaches, as well as develop expertise and understanding within the project team. Most importantly, the resources and activities were devised to scaffold both learners and tutors in goal setting and have the flexibility to be accessible and engaging across the range of experience.

There were also positive benefits in bringing together tutors from the Life Skills, English and Vocational teams (although the Vocational team participation in the project fell outside the scope of the ETF OTLA). This took the form of joint CPD, a workshop and regular team meetings to share activities, progress and findings, as well as to discuss the principles underpinning our research.

A further professional standard was also relevant to our research project:

  • Professional Standard 15: ‘promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use’.

This related to the introduction of Pro in 2021-22 across the organisation. A delay in the introduction of the learner platform meant that tutors had to input goals on the learners’ behalf during semester 1 through screen sharing (online classes) or side-by-side (in person).
In semester 2, CPD combined technical support in a ‘walk through’ from the learner perspective and a discussion with resources (Appendix 3d) which could be adapted and shared with learners to support independent goal setting.

Learners then completed the ‘About Me’ section with information about their life aims and collaborated with the group to develop relevant and targeted in-class goals. Learners still had the opportunity to adapt or form their own in-class goals in discussion with the tutor but in practice, the class discussion resulted in goals which were chosen by most learners. Because of the delay in implementation, we have not yet had a chance to assess progress fully, but a learner sample can be found in Appendix 3d.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Additional Resources and Reflections


Hynes, C. (2021) Choose your own adventure: The Action Research panto! Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

NRDC (2004). ‘Reflect 1: Individual Learning Plans’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Rohn, J. (no date). ‘Establishing Dreams and Goals by Jim Rohn’ [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance: Critical factors for success in the 21st century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology.

Ward, J. (2002). ‘Learning Journeys: Learners’ Voices: Learners’ Views on Progress and Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy’. LSDA.

  • 2016

    Milestone 1

  • 2017

    Milestone 2


  • 2018

    Milestone 3

13b. Boston College

Targeting support for ESOL learners on
vocational programmes

Boston College

This project was set up to evaluate the impact of a small-scale intervention designed to support non-native English speakers who were struggling to take full advantage of their vocational courses. We set up extra classes to focus on helping learners to develop the reading and writing skills needed to tackle their English, maths and vocational courses with more confidence. We intend to disseminate the most effective strategies to all curriculum areas to improve cross-college teaching of non-native English speakers.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Boston has a large Eastern European population which is reflected in the number of non-native speakers attending Boston College. Almost 25% of our 16–19-year-olds are ESOL learners which contributes to the richness and diversity of college life, but also provides us with significant challenges when trying to ensure that all learners are able to access our full provision and enjoy the same quality of experience as other learners.

The transition from ESOL classes to Level 2 and 3 vocational courses has proved particularly difficult with learners struggling to access the programmes due to the level of their English and academic skills. Even learners progressing from ESOL to Level 1 Business, for example, have difficulty largely due to the fact that they have not mastered the English reading and writing skills needed for their vocational course. Feedback from learners as well as Functional Skills English results for non-native 16–19-year-olds confirms this. Despite extensive pastoral support, attendance and retention on vocational courses like the Business Level 1 is also impacted, with success and progression onto further study significantly affected.

We considered a range of different strategies to support the development of our learners’ English and academic skills and help them integrate into their vocational classes more readily. Having completed an assessment of learners’ language needs in the Level 1 IT/Business group, to identify the specific barriers learners often face, we decided to focus on setting up extra individual and small group support classes, the impact of which might be evaluated within the time frame of the project. We felt that the extra classes would enable us to utilise a range of resources to target individual support. Originally, our intention was also to work closely with vocational staff on the development of vocabulary resources to prepare learners to take full advantage of vocational programmes. After developing the use of MS Teams Reader and vocabulary resources in the spring term, these have now been disseminated to some vocational areas e.g., Foundation, Pathways to Progress to support improvement across college teaching non-native and low-level English learners.

Other Contextual Information

The college’s action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place mainly in the English department of our FE college. We worked with two different English groups of Level 1 and Level 2 learners who were also enrolled on either IT (Digital Skills) or Business vocational areas, which are very popular with our non-native English speakers.


The flow chart below outlines how we approached the project and indicates how we intend to continue with our work once the project has finished.

  • Initial fact finding
  • Intervention classes
  • Evaluating the impact
  • Next steps
  • Sharing what we found out
  • •Met with key staff to identify the issues that second language learners were having in
    their classes and suggest possible ways to address them (Appendix 3d).
    •Met with second language learners, Computing Level 1, to discuss the challenges many
    of them face in this class and what support they think they would benefit from.
    •Identified specific support needs using the Starting Point Assessment on Century Tech
    and observation of learners in both FS English and maths classes (Appendix 2).
  • •Based on our findings we timetabled in 2 extra hours of voluntary support classes
    tagged on to their study programmes.
    •A range of different resources and strategies were selected to support their language
    •Staff development in use of MS Teams reading tool / Immersive Reader put in place.
  • •A contemporaneous log of activities was used to record the aims of the activities and
    encourage reflection on how useful they had been (Appendix 3a).
    •Project meetings reviewed the log and session content adjusted as the sessions
    •Learner feedback was collected using an interview and questionnaire (Appendix 3b).
    •The progress of 2 learners in their English, maths and vocational classes resulted in 2
    case studies (Appendix 2).
    •Observations of the sessions were carried out by QA staff (Appendix 3c).
  • •Vocational vocabulary development in class and supplementary aids e.g. glossary,
    language posters etc.
    •ESOL champions.
    •Develop assessment/interview techniques for vocational staff at IAG stage to identify if
    learners have the current language skills to succeed within a 34 week the time frame,
    alternative routes and support options included.
  • •Team will create CPD sessions for staff focussing on strategies that worked well and
    encouraging ways to embed their use in different vocational classes.
    •Glossaries will be shared with each vocational area.
    •Learners will create posters/ leaflets for new students e.g. Quotes , advice etc.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The intervention classes were set up in November and are scheduled to continue until the end of May. We chose to focus on the impact that these classes have had on the development of two learners, Learner M and Learner N. The classes were popular with learners; their attendance is sitting at 90%, which is much better than the college average for this time of year.

Although the initial sessions were planned using in-class assessment and observations, the content remained fluid allowing teachers to support the individual development of the two learners, often reacting to information identified in their other lessons (Appendix 3a). The individual support was also commented on in observation feedback (Appendix 3c):

Bespoke delivery clearly supporting the individual learning needs of the two learners

English, maths and IT teachers and support staff worked together and have been keen to comment on the progress that learners have made since attending the extra sessions (Appendix 2).

Learner N, for example, had difficulties understanding maths examination questions as well as interacting with the rest of the class. Concerted work on developing his vocabulary in the intervention sessions, extensive Learning Support Assistant (LSA) help, as well as the learner’s engagement in online resources such as Learning by Questions has proved useful, and resulted in a score of 60% at Entry 3 in his formal assessment in February. In his English classes, this same learner had problems with the reading paper, difficulties with writing conventions, capital letters and full stops, as well as letter formation. His English teacher (Appendix 2) believes that:

[the focused work] done around understanding a text, questions about a text and understanding question words had enabled him to make substantial progress in his understanding

The table below documents the reading progress that learner N made:

  • First reading assessment
  • 11/24 (45%)
  • Second reading assessment
  • 12/24 (50%)
  • December reading exam
  • 21/24 (87.5%)

Learner M has also made progress, with his initial diagnostic reading score moving from 75% in October to 86% in March 2022 at Entry 2 (Appendix 2). Both learners have also made a marked improvement in spelling, grammar and organisation of their writing.

There is LSA evidence to suggest that the learners’ participation in their vocational classes has also improved. Learner N, for example, found it challenging to interact with peers in team activities, and would not answer questions when asked, despite knowing the answers. The help he has received from his support worker, coupled with changes in the class set-up, as well as the confidence from extra sessions have had a significant impact upon his relationship with the class. His support worker has noted that that he has joined the Computing 1 group chat and is now prepared to communicate via Teams:

If his peers see or hear him struggling, they will message him asking if he needs help
– Learner N’s LSA

He goes on to say that Learner N now seems to be far more integrated into the class and:

[Learner N] will now fool around with his peers whilst waiting for lessons and at times had been seen teasing other peers with little pranks.’
– Learner N’s LSA

Please see Appendix 2, LSA comments for further examples.

Learners’ own perceptions of their progress, when questioned during a small group support session, seemed to echo the tutors’ observations, saying that they felt that the sessions had improved their confidence in all aspects of English. However, the learner feedback survey was not so generous in its findings. We believe the variance may be down to the fact that Learner N completed this at home without tutor support, so there was possibly a misunderstanding within the questions being asked. We will revisit this with the learner at the end of the programme. Feedback from tutors, as well as assessments, continues to support our belief that there has been significant improvement in both learners’ academic work and social interaction at college. N is now more confident in speaking in front of others, can order the alphabet and read in English more fluently as can be seen in the tracker records. M has also shown great improvement in his English ability, particularly in grammar and writing skills. These are all small interventions that could not be facilitated in a larger group in lesson and required the intensity of a small group of two learners.

Organisational Development

1. Improved communication between vocational, English and maths teams.

Professional standard 20 – Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others

The project has required us to work more collaboratively to identify the specific issues that individuals were struggling with and monitor their progress. Meeting across the three areas has often been logistically difficult but using the log to record what has been done in each session has helped and we anticipate that this will impact on organisational development and the way we work next year. We have identified the following developments so far.

2. Potential development of the internal quality process.

Professional standard 20 – Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others.

In order to identify the kinds of problems that second language learners were having in their classes we interviewed the learners and set up observations of the classes. The observations helped identify what needed to be worked on in their extra classes but also highlighted where different strategies might be used to support NNEs and lower-level learners. We are keen to consider how the observation process might be enhanced further to capture this detail and identify if college wide development is required.

3. Change of future starting point assessment and IAG to ensure that the specific language needs on vocational courses are considered.

Professional standard 1 – Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

Learning from this project

At the beginning of the project, we had planned to do significantly more. However, we quickly realised that many of our intentions were overzealous and more suitable over a longer period of time, so we changed our focus to align ourselves with the immediate needs of the learners within this project.

The implementation of intervention groups has had very positive results and we have also identified a number of factors which will influence how we continue to support our learners next year.

Triangulation of support has had significant benefits over a very short period of time.

Bringing all the staff involved in the progress of the learner together has allowed us to share ideas on different teaching strategies and their effectiveness as well as utilise the expertise of learning support staff. We will try to explore this ‘joined up’ approach further next year. We also need to increase awareness of the significant role LSAs take within the group, and how they can continue to carry on the work that has been developed in the small support groups. The importance of the additional learner support process in the sharing of planning across a learner’s study programme needs to be recognised.

Targeting areas which could have the most impact and that was within our power to supply was important.

We recognise that this is an expensive way of supporting individuals and that this may not have been possible without the funding from EHCP; however, some of the resources and strategies found to be effective can now be shared with both LSAs and class tutors. This targeted small class approach has also been found to be particularly effective when deploying teaching assistants in schools (EEF, 2021).

Strategies which can be used across all classes offer a consistency of approach and may preclude the need to reinvent the wheel for each individual case.

We identified that in many ways we continue to work in silos rather than using a more ‘joined up’ approach. To support this, the development of Microsoft Teams and how it can be implemented to support small group/learner support is to be extensively researched over the coming months in preparation for the new academic year. This will allow us to update all lecturers/support staff on the learners’ study programme with up-to-date strategies as well as significant progress information.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project has encouraged us to step outside ‘normal’ modes of delivery and identify how we can best support new learners to the college, both non-native English speakers (NNESs) and learners with a relatively low English assessment score. Being able to nurture learners in a small group has allowed us to target specific language difficulties which were hindering progress and has also impacted upon their confidence and mindset to improve. As a result, we are also looking at how to develop a more robust Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) process which will inform how we support these learners next year.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    As part of the project there has been considerable time dedicated to identifying resources and teaching strategies and reflecting on how learners have responded to these. Although not every session was successful, we have identified that, to date, the two learners within this project have made better than anticipated progress. Another point to note is that the learners that took part in this research are on Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and in studying the report and identifying their individual needs we feel that at the time of the review we will have fully met, if not exceeded their needs.

  • 16. Address the mathematics and English needs of learners and work creatively to overcome individual barriers to learning.

    Throughout this process we have considered strategies that support learners’ English development and how best to support these, not only in English and maths, but equally in their main study programme. Although maths was not initially considered, it is clear to see through our research where significant improvements have been made in this area too (see diagnostic comparisons). This is particularly pleasing as it was not something that was expected and another reason why we intend to invest in this process with an increased number of learners next year. Moving forward we will be adopting more techniques to support a positive mindset with learners in both English and maths though small group interventions using techniques adopted in this research, such as the alphabet tasks and MS Teams reader.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others.

    We have also begun to offer staff development sessions based on some of the new technology we have used as part of the project. The first was offered in January, and was well received by different curriculum areas, one of which has booked further training April so they can use MS Teams reader as part of their everyday delivery. During our CPD days in June 2022 we will disseminate our findings to curriculum staff and work together to develop bespoke embedded support materials for their areas, which will also include vocabulary books, walls, techniques to encourage verbal participation class.


Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3


EEF (2021) Teaching Assistant Interventions Moderate impact for moderate cost based on moderate evidence. Available at: (Accessed: 20 March 2022).

12b. Haringey ALS

Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project

Haringey Adult Learning Service

This project investigated how a range of foundational skills can be supported and embedded in the development of essential digital skills through an informal learning approach.

The aim of the project was to develop peer-to-peer support relationships via collaboration, with low-level learners receiving digital support from higher-level learners. By triangulating the arrangement with tutors, we aimed to use peer-to-peer support to improve learners’ confidence and ability in class and to help them participate in our ever-increasing digital society.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Haringey Adult Learning Service (HALS) identified a support need for ESOL and literacy learners who have low-level digital skills. This project explored how peer-to-peer support could benefit both high-level (mentors) and low-level learners (mentees) through a peer-to-peer fusion model, with learners developing foundational and digital skills.

HALS embed the 5 Cs model of fusion skills into the curriculum, and these skills underpinned the project. For more information about the 5 Cs, please visit our 5Cs model Padlet.

These fusion skills form part of 56 foundational skills identified by McKinsey & Company, the Distinct Elements of Talent (DELTAs), that will help citizens thrive in the future of work (June 2021). McKinsey & Company (2021).

There were two strands to the project:

  1. Mentors to improve their fusion skills
  2. Mentees to improve confidence with Essential Digital Skills.

The intention of this project is to act as the foundation for the creation of a peer-to-peer support culture across HALS, with a dual focus on both mentors and mentees.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The peer mentors were Level 1 and 2 learners (Digital TLC volunteers) who had good digital skills and the mentees were lower-level English learners.

We began with 12 volunteer peer mentors who we matched with one learner (mentee) each. The context is adult learning and the mentoring sessions that were carried out in the learning lounge area were curated and monitored by staff.


Stage 1:
Facilitate Digital TLC Workshop to design the marketing and promotional activities in order to set up the Open Learning Lounge. The Tender Love and Care (TLC) group consists of learners and volunteers who want to make a difference and promote a more inclusive and a better place to thrive at HALS. The group has different subgroups, and the Digital TLC subgroup that took part in this project is made up from Level 1 and Level 2 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) learners with improved digital skills.

Stage 2:
Train up a group of HALS learner volunteers to support lower-level learners in developing digital skills and crucial transferable skills based on using our own 5 C’s Model. Tutors refer nominated learners from their classes to the group. Learners are paired up with Digital TLC volunteers for support.

Stage 3:
Hold tutorials with the participating learners to track the development of their foundational and Essential Digital Skills (EDS) and encourage this learning to be disseminated in the classroom.

Co-design tasks to enable the TLC to run drop-in sessions collaboratively, share skills and knowledge amongst themselves and provide support to lower-level learners with their EDS and foundational skills.

Stage 4:
Run presentation of outcomes across the service in dissemination events including class visits, team huddles and lunchtime talks by both learner groups and practitioners.

Stage 5:
Encourage the creation of video diaries by the participants.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment


Mentors involved in the project were motivated to take part to improve employability skills such as communication, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

By participating in this project of peer supporters, I hope to improve my ability to encourage other peers to work together in a positive way. I would like to be able to generate ideas on how to better improve the skills of learners I support by knowledge sharing. I hope to be able to communicate more effectively to gain skills to support others with digital skills.
– HB, mentor

I am taking many courses to improve myself, also to have better job opportunities. The reason why I wanted to join TLC peer-to-peer fusion was, first of all, to test my teaching skills and have an opportunity to improve my communication, observation and creativity skills, which will be required during this process. I am sure that the outcome from this will be a win-win situation, as I believe that you learn while you teach.
– GD, mentor

The impact of providing support to peers was beneficial to mentors, as the experience of adapting to meet the support needs of their mentees provided skill-development opportunities outside of those initially identified (such as listening in addition to communication). The experience of being able to support others through sharing knowledge and skills supported mentors to develop skills with building relationships and teamworking.

I am very happy from this experience because it helped me to develop my listening, also my communicative skills. The person, E, that I had to help, he trust (sic) me his email account and together we achieve to recover his password. The experience was very nice and helpful for developing new skills.
– OL, mentor

I am delighted to be part of this great project. My skills improved in teamworking, collaboration, communication skills throughout while communicating with my mentors, colleagues and mentees.
– JB, mentor


Mentees gained essential digital skills that will allow them to access resources and participate in their courses on digital platforms. Some mentees benefited from learning targeting individualised skills to deal with a particular problem, like recovering and changing a password for an email account.
Skills acquired during the project included:

  •  logging on and off MS Teams
  •  downloading and uploading files
  •  opening and viewing files
  •  cut and paste
  •  inserting a digital signature
  •  recovering and changing the password for an email account.

Mentees benefited from receiving support to learn digital skills, and also had the opportunity to develop communication skills, which is of additional benefit to ESOL and literacy learners. Feedback from mentees included:

Checklists were also created to help track each mentee’s progress.

At a peer-to-peer celebration event, one of the mentees had the opportunity to hear their mentor speak about the project and their own experiences. The mentee and mentor discussed their experiences together at the event, with the mentor sharing that she had been a total beginner when she started, which the mentee commented was a huge inspiration to her. They talked together about how they had both benefited from the experience and learned from each other, and how their digital skills and wider skills improved throughout the project.


Feedback from tutors on the support learners brought back to the classroom is noted below.

E needed support with changing the password on his email account as the account had been set up by someone else and he was unhappy that they had access to it. The peer-to-peer support provided an opportunity for him to work with a mentor to identify the steps to change his password. The impact this had in the classroom was E was able to feel confident accessing his emails to receive links to activities he was required to complete as part of the course. It had a positive impact on his confidence and feeling safe in the knowledge his information was secure.

– Caitríona, ICT Beginners Tutor

RC was able to enrol via ‘web enrol’ for the first time independently after getting peer-to-peer support. Previously he had to complete a paper enrolment form. The impact to RC was that he was able to have more agency over his learning and also to give him greater confidence when he is choosing further learning, as he knows he will be able to enrol online independently.

– Tutor

Some valuable feedback was also provided by Pre/Entry English tutor, S:

These learners are extremely low level and despite my 15 years of teaching experience I often find it really difficult to get them to understand concepts. Concepts and tasks have to repeated again and again

Our initial approach was to teach the mentees the skills that they wanted to learn. Tutor S requested that specific aspects of learning could be individualised by the tutor to meet the learning needs of a specific group. This approach was adapted. S indicated to the mentors the specific skills the learners from her low-level English group needed to improve on. Mentees received support on those specific tasks. A checklist of mentees learning illustrated in Figure 2 was produced for each learner and returned to the tutor. This method was then adopted across all of the support sessions.

Tutor S feedback following the session:
In terms of what was really useful: discrete activities supporting learners to get logged on to Teams, access classroom and upload files.


The over 50s group participated in a peer support session. Quotes from the group representative included:

“Several of these people have really next to no digital skills.”

“Glad there was such a good turnout.”

“I am really looking forward to seeing this programme and relationship progress!”

Mentee Support Log

The Mentee Support Log, completed by mentors, also documented the skills required, shared and the impact for the ment


The screenshot below shares some of the data captured during the project via the Mentee Support Log. The first column includes skills required by the mentee, the second column skills shared by mentors with the mentee and the third column records the impact on the mentee.

Videos and pictures illustrating our project in action

You can access a variety of videos from our mentors and mentees on our Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Padlet board, as well as in Appendix 2, learner case studies. Below are some images of our mentors and mentees in action.

Figure 5: Peer to Peer mentoring sessions

Peer Mentoring Showcases Mentor and Mentees Experiences

Further examples of the impact of our peer-peer fusion skills project on mentors and mentees are evidenced on our Padlet board, under the column mentee and mentor experience. An example is shared below:

Further Quotes from our Peer Mentors:

The quotes below further illustrate the impact of our action research project in relation to teaching, learning and assessment:

I supported my Peer Mentee to improve his learning by how to get onto Microsoft Teams and navigate around the screen, to get to his class. Then he could access the work his teacher put on his Channel.

– J, Peer mentor

The meeting with Peers was successful. Improved IT skills for Mentee.

– P, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with my mentee was very positive, he was very eager to learn and always contacts me for help.

– F, Peer mentor

The relationship with my mentee is providing me with key skills that I will need in Team Management.

– H, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with Mentee was very supported and we worked well in a team. The Mentee appreciated the help he learned.

– B, Peer mentor

Organisational Development

As an organisation, we are looking to continue to use this approach, nurturing a culture of peer-to-peer support, and supporting documenting the impact of this culture with video diaries capturing progress and joy in the project. Our plans going forward include:

  •  establishing a regular culture of peer-to-peer support within the classroom;
  •  continued use of the Open Learning Lounge as a space for developing the foundational and digital skills of HALS learners, and as a centre for resources which will continue to grow as the peer-to-peer support continues;
  •  continuous staff support to adopt the peer-to-peer support model.

Promotion events took place across the service where learners, staff and stakeholders were getting familiar with the project.

Figure 8: Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project promotion events

The peer-to-peer support practice became popular with our learners, staff and stakeholders. Our lovely Digital TLC volunteers recently provided peer-to-peer support for the Over 50s community group. This group were very delighted about the digital support they received and wished to further participate in this project. Below are some photos of our eager peer mentors’ and mentees’ experiences with our stakeholders.

Figure 9: Peer to Peer and individual mentoring session for stakeholders

The peer-to-peer support model enabled our staff, learners and stakeholders to have access to an informal learner-centred method that improved digital access to all of the participants as well as TLA by enabling learners to bring the learning back into the classroom. This method also fostered improved employability skills across the spectrum. Peer mentors/mentees became better at collaboration, communication, planning and digital skills.

Learning from this project

Mentor feedback shows how much the mentors enjoyed taking part in the project and how it increased their employability skills. As part of the project, they received training in how to provide support, which provided them with a variety of tools to support their peers. They also increased their own digital skills by creating and uploading videos to document their experience, and creative thinking by reflecting on the impact of the training they provided.

Mentees improved their digital skills, being able to access digital resources that will support their learning, and they, in turn, can support other learners in the classrooms. Having access to targeted, one-to-one support, provided an opportunity to upskill in areas that directly addressed their areas of need in relation to digital literacy, with an added benefit of improving communication skills.

Tutors benefited by extra support, which meant they could concentrate on their lessons and spend less time providing support for essential digital skills in the classroom.

During the project, feedback from a tutor identified that the peer-to-peer support for her learners would be even better if it was more structured for her learners. She identified key skills that would specifically benefit their learning experience that should be provided during the peer-to-peer support. We adapted the mentoring model with the tutor providing support topics that were shared with the mentors.

Mentors mentioned that they would have benefited from role play in their training. We implemented this as role play is a very useful activity for building confidence and communication skills.

Following the programme some peer mentors are considering progressing to teaching assistant roles.

The peer-to-peer support enabled me to gain experience in sharing the digital skills that I learnt with lower-level learners and improve my skills in planning and working collaboratively with others. It gave me confidence and now I am thinking of progressing towards a teaching assistant role.
– G, Peer mentor

The project team’s research findings in relation to other similar research projects shows similar positive impact.

For example, previous research demonstrated that peers learning from other peers is the path to follow (De Boer et al, 2013; Koster et al, 2010). These positive results align with our findings where all students can feel accepted, make new friends and enhance their employability skills.

The participants’ growth and progress as the session increased was noticeable. It was transparent that the mentees looked up the mentors and that they were forming strong bonds.

– Owusu, 2020

We hope our project research outcomes will assist others who would like to implement a peer program at their institution.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions and build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners. There were discussions with colleagues about should we provide learners topics on what digital skills they need to improve on or give them the freedom to choose what they want to learn. These depended on learners’ individual needs and what worked for one learner did not work for the other. In conclusion, the peer-to-peer support was a great aid in the classroom as more learners gained digital skills and were able to better participate and support peers as well as a continuous interaction within staff themes from different departments.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour.

    During the programme we managed and promoted positive learner behaviour. A culture of mutual support and learning. Mentors interacted and supported each other sharing skills, knowledge and behaviour. Mentees brought back the knowledge they gained to their classrooms and further shared with their peers. The project enthused learners to develop a positive supportive behaviour across HALS.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    This learner-centred peer-to-peer approach enabled learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge by supporting each other individually and in their classroom. They were continuously learning new digital skills and experiencing fusion skills throughout.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Support Log

Appendix 4: Video Diaries

Appendix 5: Mentor Training Resources

Appendix 6: Project Padlet

Appendix 7: Project Short Film


De Boer, A., Pijl, S. J., Post, W., and Minnaert, A., (2013). Peer acceptance and friendships of students with disabilities in general education: The role of child, peer, and classroom variables. Social Development, 22(4), 831-844.

Koster, M., Pijl, S. J., Nakken, H., & Van Houten, E., (2010). Social participation of students with special needs in regular primary education in the Netherlands. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 57(1), 59-75.

McKinsey and Company (2021). Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

Owusu, P., (2020). ‘Peer to Peer Mentoring: A Multiple-Case Study Evaluating the LINKS Peer Support Program’. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, pp.44 – 7062. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

11c. Hopwood Hall College

Flipgrid for ESOL language development

Hopwood Hall College

This project utilised the video discussion platform Flipgrid (now Flip) to empower and develop ESOL learners’ language development in speaking and listening. The aim was to enhance learners’ confidence in communication and digital skills. Flipgrid was found to be an effective way to do this.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


In the ESOL teaching context, it is often difficult to find speaking and listening resources which meet learners’ needs. Published resources are often developed for global markets or have a focus on grammar. The practical nature of ESOL learning, requires practitioners to make adaptations to ensure relevance for ESOL learners. The development of digital educational tools has allowed teachers to explore and utilise a variety of digital technology to meet the needs of their learners. Flipgrid, which is a collaborative online video discussion platform, was chosen as it focusses on empowering learners through their own voice. In addition, it allows teachers to set tasks which relate to their daily lives. The interface is similar to most social media tools and be easily operated by anyone who has a smartphone.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The project was carried out in the ESOL department at Hopwood Hall College (FE) to support and develop the speaking skills of Level 1 ESOL learners. The learners attended classes for six hours per week. They were mostly from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. Their speaking and listening skills varied at Level 1; some were very confident while others required more support to gain confidence. Likewise, there were differences in their digital skills levels and access.


It was important that the learners were very clear about the aim of the project and what their expected level of involvement would be. The scope of the project was explained and example Flipgrids were used to demonstrate what learners would be required to do (Appendix 4).

It was important to explain that, as the Flipgrids were private, there would be no unauthorised viewing. Each group had a unique code which was only disseminated to that specific group. In addition, the email of each learner was added into the group; therefore, no unauthorised learners or Flipgrid users could access the group. This engendered a sense of security and increased comfort levels to upload audio or videos.

The process to download the app was straightforward and was completed by most learners in the class. Due to Wi-Fi accessibility some chose to do this at home. An introductory PowerPoint was created which learners could access via the college Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at any time if they had any issues in the initial set up.

Learners then had to input their unique group code which would allow them to join their group. It was at this juncture that some issues were identified which required a review of how the learners’ emails were inputted. It was found that adding the domains as well the individual college email addresses solved this issue.

The initial task was to upload introductory videos, which would allow them to use the app from their phone (Appendix 5). Learners were able to explore the range of filters, emojis and backgrounds to personalise their Flipgrids. This proved to be a fun experience and the simplicity of the task allowed learners to focus on using Flipgrid rather than their English, which immediately built their confidence and overcame any initial resistance to using the app. Learners commented that:

I liked using it on my phone, it was so easy!”
“It’s private, just for me and my group.

I really liked using it and it’s fun. I can make my Flipgrid at home or at college because I can use my phone!

I liked using the filters and backgrounds, it was something different. I could make the Flipgrids in my way.

Learners were also able to choose whether they wanted to upload a video or an audio. This autonomy to do what they were comfortable with and allowed the learners to engage in the project. The feedback from the learners was positive as they felt in control of the narrative and the pace. They also enjoyed viewing their classmates’ videos and learning new details about them.

Learners who had not engaged in this activity were encouraged to join in and were bolstered by their colleagues. I think this collaborative encouragement was motivating for reluctant learners. Learners have since uploaded a range of Flipgrids to utilise the app to demonstrate their language acquisition. They review their Flipgrids and have visual evidence of their progress.

Outcomes and Impact

This section of the report shares outcomes and impact, in relation to teaching, learning and assessment, professional development and organisational development.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

In the next academic year Flipgrid will be utilised department wide for ESOL and workshops will be set up for other departments and support provided to embed its use. Flipgrid has shown that it is indeed a collaborative video discussion tool which supports asynchronous learning. It fosters an enjoyable social learning environment which benefits learners of all abilities.

Flipgrid has allowed us as practitioners to:

  • review learners’ comprehension of instructions to complete tasks
  • assess the development of speaking skill
  • celebrate learners’ strengths
  • identify areas of concern and provide actionable feedback
  • assess and reflect on my teaching practice.

Flipgrid has also allowed learners to:

  • enhance their communication and digital skills
  • reflect on their learning
  • gain confidence in their speaking and listening
  • connect with their fellow learners.
Diagram showing what Flipgrid can be used for.

Figure 1. Slide showing how Flipgrid can be used when working with ESOL learners.

Flipgrid is a versatile teaching tool which is restricted only by the teacher or learners’ imaginations. It could be used with low level learners all the way up to the higher levels and further to practise and embed a range of skills from pronunciation, listening to short stories, uploading book or film reviews, expressing their opinions on given topics, presenting information or debating points of view.

Teachers can use it to assess learners’ knowledge, contextual understanding and language acquisition. Flipgrids can range from simple feedback (reflective especially) to detailed narratives expressing opinions on a wide range of topics. As teachers we could use this tool to demonstrate learners starting points and progression as well as a formative and summative assessment tool.

Organisational Development

The use of Flipgrid can easily be embedded into every teacher’s teaching, learning and assessment activities and can be used with learners at all levels. The added bonus of a single sign-in using the learners/staff own college email and password allows ease of access. The functionality of Flipgrid is similar to other apps, such as social media, which makes it accessible to learners who are familiar with smartphones (Appendix 6). During a Digital CPD event, a demonstration was given on how to use Flipgrid and staff could see examples that had been created. One member of staff said, “It looks so fun, I miss that!” Another commented that:

It could be used to collect reflections from vocational learners on placement for work experience, rather than the learners coming back into college to sit with us and get their feedback.

Flipgrid can be used by anyone with access to a smartphone or a device with internet access. It is simple to use if learners have basic digital skills. For learners who couldn’t access Flipgrid at home (e.g. due to Wi-Fi access or digital poverty), they could use it at college. This makes it inclusive in respect of individual financial background. In addition, learners can demonstrate meaningful information related to their own opinions and observations.

Throughout the project, learning and observations were shared with other teachers within the department. Some teachers thought it was a good idea so also started using it. One member of staff said:

I’m definitely using this with my group. It’s a great way for me to give them a homework task and see who does and how well!

It is a flexible learning tool as tutors can use this at different language levels. For example, pre-entry ESOL learners could upload pronunciation of key topic words or make simple sentences. These activities can be adapted or new tasks created throughout the level. Level 2 learners could present structured arguments to support their point of view.

Learning from this project

Mango stated that ‘Flipgrid provided learners with a safe, low-stress platform for language practice while allowing them to track their progress, which in turn helped learners gain more confidence in their listening and speaking skills.’ (Mango, 2021: 277). Flipgrid was implemented with Level 1 ESOL learners who had varying levels of speaking skills. Their level was assessed through completion of an Entry Level 3 qualification or based on their initial assessment before commencing the course.

These learners could understand the application of Flipgrid and its benefits. It did not mean they were self-assured using it, which was shown clearly in the initial Flipgrids (Appendix 7). However, learners’ ease and level of active engagement with Flipgrid increased over time (Appendix 8).

Moreover, Holbeck and Hartman (2018) found Flipgrid to be an effective and relevant educational tool. They reported that it helped increase student engagement and communication in a secondary art classroom:

One of the earliest published studies that examines the efficacy of using Flipgrid in a language teaching context is McLain (2018) who found Flipgrid to be an effective learning tool for Business English Writing learners in Korea. Student-participants in McLain’s study reported that Flipgrid was beneficial for them to engage in language practice from home. Many participants also reported that they had perceived an increase in their English-speaking ability.

– Hammett, 2018: 36

During the speaking exams, the following feedback was noted from the assessors and interlocuters.

These learners were really prepared; they just completed that whole exam without the usual delays such as asking for more time or demonstrating signs of nervousness and anxiety.

The questions and answers were well executed. They really demonstrated active listening and mirrored language.

Although these learners practised independently, they also utilised Flipgrid for their speaking exam preparation in groups. The learners were able to view, not only their own Flipgrids but also their partners as many times as they needed to.

Flipgrid could be utilised at lower levels to identify how practical and beneficial this could be. Flipgrid made a noticeable difference to learners’ confidence, oracy and digital skills during this project. With patience and practice this could be incredibly useful for lower level ESOL learners as it would give them an opportunity to consolidate their language acquisition over the academic year. Utilising Flipgrid in sessions will enable teachers to encourage learners to engage asynchronously and improve their language and digital skills. Learners have ownership and control over what they produce and present while teachers gain clarity of each learner’s understanding and progression. One member of staff has started using it with young learners and said that, as Flipgrid is a single sign-in with the college email, it adds another layer of efficiency to using the app:

It’s great, I want to use it and the learners want to use it. They downloaded the app and have logged in so fast!

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Our project used educational technology to support and develop teaching, learning and assessment. It made use of existing technology (smartphones) which learners had access to and were confident and familiar using. Flipgrid is a free app and website which can be downloaded. Learners can create their own accounts and sign in. It works well with common software such as MS Office which is widely used in academic institutions.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    This project developed learners’ speaking skills through the use of Flipgrid on a regular basis. Learners used the app frequently so became familiar and confident with it. They reflected on the Flipgrid recordings which had been uploaded and shared their ideas on how to improve. They also compared their first Flipgrid recording with their final recording and reflected on their progression. This allowed them to explore their progression and achievements, which in turn motivated them to do more.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Learners need digital skills to complete everyday tasks, access employment, communicate and study. Flipgrid is a simple way to promote these. It is free, easy to use, secure and private. Learners can practise recording audio and video in a supportive and or comfortable environment. It gave them the confidence to use similar apps and record audio and video. It also promoted language acquisition and appropriate and effective language use.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Resources

Appendix 4: Flipgrid Intro Videos

Appendix 5: Flipgrid Final Videos

Appendix 6: Training Resource for Teachers

Appendix 7: Flipgrid Activity Examples.

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Boyce, J., (2022). Empowering English Learners: #Flipgrid4ELs Available at:

Difilippantonio-Pen, A., (2020). Flipgrid and Second Language Acquisition Using Flipgrid to Promote Speaking Skills for English Language Learners, Virtual Commons, Bridgewater State University, 5-2020, Available at:

Edwards, C.R., Lane, P.N., (2021). Facilitating Student Interaction: The Role of Flipgrid in Blended Language Classrooms, Computer Assisted Language Learning Electronic Journal, 22(2), Available at:

Hammett, D. A., (2021). Utilizing Flipgrid for speaking activities: A small scale university level EFL study, Technology in Language Teaching & Learning, 3(2), Available at:

Holbeck, R., Hartman, J. (2018). Efficient strategies for maximizing online student satisfaction: applying technologies to increase cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence, Available at:

Mango, O. (2021). Flipgrid: Learners’ perceptions of its advantages and disadvantages in the language classroom. International Journal of Technology in Education and Science (IJTES), 5(3), 277-287. Available at:

Shehane, M. J., (2015). Five strategies for using Flipgrid in the language learning classroom, Available at:, (2022). Integration Doc: Flipgrid in world languages, Available at:

11b. The Oldham College

Supporting second language learners in vocational courses

Oldham College

This project brought vocational and ESOL tutors together to collaborate on embedding language learning in vocational programmes. Through regular consultation with learners, we developed responsive strategies and helped learners use vocational vocabulary more confidently. We have identified digital and spoken skills as our next areas for development.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


ESOL and vocational tutors often have few opportunities to learn from each other and plan collaboratively. At Oldham College we have run ESOL vocational programmes for several years, but the vocational and ESOL elements have been planned and delivered separately by the respective specialist tutors.

Vocabulary and self-expression can be major barriers to progression for both ESOL learners and other learners on vocational programmes. Research shows that embedding language into vocational teaching can boost motivation, retention and achievement (Casey et al, 2006). This project aimed to bring vocational and ESOL tutors together to identify teaching and learning approaches that could help to bridge the gap between ESOL and vocational courses.

Other Contextual Information

This research took place at The Oldham College, a general FE college. We offer a wide range of vocational programmes of study, as well as ESOL classes from Starter level up to Level 2. ESOL learners who are working towards Level 1 have the option of choosing a vocational pathway to study alongside their language classes.

For this project we worked with a 16-19 ESOL business group, and two adult ESOL vocational groups, one studying Health and Social Care and the other Beauty. Both ESOL and vocational tutors were involved in developing and trialling teaching strategies.


Teachers were recruited via an internal college bulletin email and by direct invitation to those teaching on ESOL vocational programmes. Participants had an initial conversation with the project lead to discuss the aims and methods of the research.

Both ESOL and vocational tutors used observation and class discussion to identify where learners felt they required support with language for vocational learning. Learners identified work-specific vocabulary and understanding the spoken language of vocational tutors as areas for development. The Beauty tutor also noted that lack of digital skills was a barrier for adult learners who had very low engagement in online coursework activities.

Tutors subsequently met to discuss possible interventions from a range of ESOL and vocabulary teaching strategies. Frayer models and similar vocabulary recording methods (Appendix 3) were chosen as a simple and time-effective way of teaching and recording vocational terms. One ESOL tutor decided to use authentic vocational texts to reinforce vocabulary in ESOL lessons (Appendix 5).

From December, tutors began using a range of vocabulary activities in classes and recorded reflections, observations and learner comments on a visual template (Appendix 6). Examples of learner work were also collected as evidence of engagement and understanding (Appendix 4). Teachers met regularly with the project lead to discuss progress and further areas for development.

In order to address the digital skills gap identified with the Beauty group, the ESOL tutor planned an induction to Google Classroom. Learners took part in a group discussion about access to digital resources and it emerged that mobile compatibility was a key issue. The ESOL tutor planned a three-week programme of ESOL work on Google classroom to build digital skills and confidence. Learners were shown how to access and submit work on mobile phones. This strand of the work was then linked to vocabulary building through the use of Wordwall matching activities (Appendix 8). Engagement with resources was monitored, and learners were interviewed at the end of the programme to evaluate impact.

Throughout the project, visual templates were used to aid communication between teachers, students and researchers. In January, interviews were conducted with learners using a visual capture sheet. The template used the metaphor of a hot air balloon and a mountain to promote reflection about what supported their learning goals and what barriers still existed (Appendix 7). Several themes emerged from these interviews. One commonly mentioned issue was a lack of confidence in spoken English and the desire for more opportunities to practise speaking. This will inform future discussions with vocational tutors to identify opportunities to embed oracy into lessons.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The biggest impact of this project is that it has increased collaboration betweenLearner reflections using a visual template on their skills, challenges and capabilities. ESOL and vocational tutors, raising awareness of the specific needs of ESOL learners. Vocational tutors have tried a range of vocabulary strategies and reflected on their impact. This has led to further development of resources such as a vocabulary dictionary and matching activities (Appendix 9). Learners have engaged with the activities and demonstrated a better understanding of vocational terminology. In Business classes, learners have used technical language more accurately and frequently. Observations and discussions with learners in Beauty demonstrate that learners feel more confident in their understanding of subject-specific vocabulary. Learners commented on the value of using pictures and having support from the tutor with spelling. Learners have also been able to make links between their vocational and ESOL learning, commenting on the value of repeating learning across the different strands of their programme.

On the Beauty programme, engagement with online learning has increased. Learners have submitted online assignments and used uploaded slides to prepare for vocational lessons. They have also learned to create their own slides to make presentations. In interviews learners have said that they particularly value online quizzes due to their ease of access, instant feedback and repeatability. Consequently the project lead is now working with vocational tutors to plan further online vocabulary activities to support the work done in classrooms.

As a result of the research, there has been increased dialogue with learners leading to a better understanding of what they value in their learning and the barriers they perceive. One finding has been that many learners find that Level 1 vocational learning doesn’t meet their expectations. For example, learners on the Beauty course wanted to learn a range of techniques for make-up and hair and found that the content was too generic. In the early stages of the project a Beauty tutor queried why learners were limited to Level 1 when they were capable of a Level 2 qualification. This raises issues about entry requirements and perceptions of ESOL learners’ capabilities, providing valuable data to inform planning for next year’s programmes, including discussions about which qualifications should be offered.

Organisational Development

The project has enhanced cross-departmental relationships and communication. This has led to a more coherent study programme for learners on ESOL vocational courses. Feedback from learners and conversations between different subject specialists have identified areas where programme design could be improved to meet learner needs and expectations. The project has highlighted the importance of taking time to consult all stakeholders when planning a programme of study and ensuring that tutors working with the same group of learners are allocated time to meet, plan and problem-solve collaboratively.

The college is now planning a further piece of work looking at embedding maths and English into vocational courses. Learning from this project will help to inform next steps, which will include creating opportunities to bring vocational tutors together with English and maths specialists.

One of the outcomes of the project was the creation of a short digital induction for adult ESOL learners, providing an introduction to the college’s main learning platform. The Quality Department are now in the process of creating a digital strategy document and considering the introduction of a learner entitlement around access to digital skills and resources. Resources created for this project and feedback from learners will help us plan a digital induction programme.

Learning from this project

Some of the most useful learning from the project came from the process of conducting action research. Taking an exploratory approach has helped us to work more responsively, adapting and refining strategies to meet learner needs. While vocational tutors initially chose the Frayer model (Appendix 3) to teach vocabulary, they quickly found that different activities were better suited to their learners and vocational areas. In Business, the written glossary (Appendix 9) was a jumping off point for encouraging learners to use subject-specific language in their spoken and written work. The glossary allowed the tutor to set expectations about use of language in class. In Beauty, a different approach was needed due to the high number of technical terms. Pictures and repetition were important to help learners acquire and retain the unfamiliar vocabulary.

Vocational tutors were already confident about teaching vocabulary as this was seen as a key part of vocational learning for all learners. However, the project has prompted a renewed focus on providing different ways for learners to practise. Increased consultation with learners has led us to explore different avenues such as planning speaking activities with a vocabulary focus. Learners have said that they appreciate regular practice and consistency of approaches between vocational and ESOL tutors. One vocational tutor introduced regular spelling tests as a result of the project and found that it motivated the group and helped them to retain knowledge: “I wish I’d done it from the start”.

The success of visual templates to guide learner discussion and tutor reflections was another learning outcome from the project. One group of learners was given a picture of a mountain and a hot-air balloon (Appendix 9), representing challenges they face and what supports them to progress. In the absence of specific questions that might be asked in a focus group or survey, learners were free to have wide-ranging conversations which identified many issues beyond the scope of the project. These included pastoral issues and expectations about their programme as well as concerns about language proficiency. For tutors, a visual template provided a focus for reflective practice (Appendix 6) without over-burdening participants with paperwork. Tutors made short notes which efficiently captured key learning points and next steps.

Next Steps

One area for further work is the practicalities of releasing tutor time for collaborative work. Although funding was available, the constraints of timetabling and staffing difficulties meant that we have so far been unable to organise peer observations as initially hoped. There are ongoing conversations between Quality and Heads of Faculty about how to enable staff to collaborate more effectively, and where there could be more flexibility in timetabling. The college is considering ring-fencing more time for continuous professional development (CPD), which may create more opportunities for this kind of work.

While learners did express concerns about vocational vocabulary at the beginning of their programme, more in-depth interviews in January revealed that spoken English was now their primary concern. It has been relatively easy to address vocabulary learning through resource development, whereas it may be more complex to agree on interventions to address oracy. Developing speaking requires time, teaching expertise and changes to the way lessons are planned and delivered.

Our next steps will be to arrange peer observations and further discussions between ESOL and vocational tutors to shape strategies for developing speaking in vocational classes. As we begin to plan next year’s programmes, we intend to undertake a language audit with vocational tutors to analyse the functions and lexis needed for specific subject specialisms (Colquhoun & Delaney, 2009). Both ESOL and vocational tutors will then be better equipped to embed bespoke language learning in vocational programmes.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    The most important outcome of the project has been the improved communication between teachers from different areas and learners. Vocational and ESOL tutors have met regularly, leading to a better understanding of each other’s subject areas and collaborative problem solving. For example, in Beauty we were able to identify digital skills as a barrier to progression in the vocational course and work together to improve learner access to their online coursework.

    Learners have been consulted regularly about their perspective, leading to a greater understanding of their needs. While the project initially focussed on vocabulary learning, open conversations with learners generated a more nuanced view of the challenges of studying a vocational subject as an ESOL learner. This is leading to further work around the embedding of oracy in vocational learning.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    The use of a visual template to record reflections has allowed teachers to quickly note the impact of new teaching strategies. Teachers have identified the most helpful resources for vocabulary building and refined their approaches based on learner responses and their own reflections. There have also been opportunities to meet with other tutors and share techniques. Tutors have invited learners to try a range of templates for recording vocabulary and choose which ones they find most useful. Impact has been assessed through observation of learners in class and through learner evaluations.

  • 16. Address the mathematics and English needs of learners and work creatively to overcome individual barriers to learning.

    The project has focused on the English needs of learners. By consulting learners from the early stages of the project, we identified a range of barriers. Working collaboratively has brought a range of perspectives to the task of addressing learning needs. Tutors have shared and adapted templates and experimented with new ways to teach and practice vocational vocabulary. Methods have been adapted to suit different subject specialisms. For example, in Beauty there is a lot of technical vocabulary which can be explained through pictures and diagrams. We therefore used online matching activities to help learners understand and practise the terminology.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Vocabulary Recording Templates

Appendix 4: Examples of Student Work

Appendix 5: Vocational Authentic Texts

Appendix 6: Tutor Reflections on Visual Template

Appendix 7: Student Reflections on Balloon Visual Template

Appendix 8: Online Resources: Wordwall

Appendix 9: Additional Resources Developed for ESOL Vocational Classes

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster above and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Casey, H., Cara, O., Eldred, J., Grief, S., & Hodge, R. (2006). ‘You wouldn’t expect a maths teacher to teach plastering…’ Embedding literacy, language and numeracy in post-16 vocational programmes – the impact on learning and achievement. London: NRDC. Accessible at:

Colquhoun, S., & Delaney, J.A. (2009), ESOL issues for teachers in the lifelong learning sector. In A. Paton, & M. Wilkins, Teaching Adult ESOL, (pp.253-264). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education.

Rahman, Z., et al., (no date) To explore ESOL/EAL specific teaching and learning interventions of key words and phrases in the GCSE maths classroom and how they impact on learners’ progress, Education and Training Foundation, Available at:

10c. Islington ACL

Supporting the Essential Digital Skills of ESOL and low-level English students

Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL)

This project road-tested a powerful, in-house PowerPoint resource aimed at supporting ESOL and lower-level English learners to develop their knowledge and confidence in the application of Essential Digital Skills (EDS). Students reportedly enjoyed being able to use these new skills in their learning, their everyday lives and even to submit better quality homework. A rewarding by-product of the project was that colleagues developed new approaches in their teaching and acquired and shared new digital skills of their own into the bargain.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL) sought to address the Essential Digital Skills deficit of learners in the Borough by utilising a multi-layered, bespoke PowerPoint resource to introduce a step-by-step guide to a range of highly relevant digital skills in an accessible, visual and practical way. This resource was the product of ACL engaging in a previous OTLA project with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). This latest project responded to feedback about using the resource, developing it further and refining its use in the classroom and for independent use by students. This term saw a return to face-to-face teaching. A return to the classroom has enabled adults who are digitally excluded at home to benefit from this project by using a variety of handheld devices.

Other Contextual Information

Islington ACL is a Local Authority Adult and Community Learning provider that operates out of dedicated spaces in libraries, children’s centres, community spaces and partner venues. Three experienced ESOL and English tutors participated in the project together with up to forty of their students. They included a Pre-entry Level/Entry Level 1 English class, an Entry Level 2/Entry Level 3 ESOL class, an English Grammar class and two dyslexic students who engaged in one-to-one support with their tutor.


Among the challenges experienced early on in the project, tutors initially battled with a resource so substantial in size that the digital resources available in classrooms and learners’ personal devices could not cope with downloading and viewing it. The resource covers a series of separate but connected topics and individual slides have multiple animations which make it a large file. Unfortunately, the colleagues originally involved in creating the resource were unavailable for this stage of the project. However, this afforded the new project team the opportunity to explore ways of reducing the size of the resource, eventually scaling it down into themed slide sets, for example, ‘presenting work’, ‘meeting apps (Zoom)’ and – as demonstrated below – ‘keyboard and keyboard skills’.

Screenshot of EDS keyboard skills PowerPoint.

Another issue that presented itself was that this versatile and well-produced resource was created on modern computers with the latest software. This highlighted the limitations of the technology and outdated software available to tutors in some of the learning spaces. Fortunately for this project, the service has invested significantly in upgrading computers and software since the start of the year, which will contribute greatly to the EDS development of both learners and tutors.

Having cleared these hurdles, and in order to establish a baseline of digital skills, tutors conducted an initial skills audit (Appendix 6) to determine extent of digital literacy, access to and use of digital devices and level of digital skills confidence of their learner cohorts. This helped identify those aspects of the resource that would be of most usefulness and relevance to each learner.

Tutors were also encouraged to keep a diary of the activities undertaken whilst utilising the resource and to reflect on its application and impact on learners. An important aspect of the project were the bi-weekly meetings of the whole project team. These provided an opportunity to feedback on progress, share successes, discuss and overcome challenges and to contribute development suggestions.

The project deputy also made mid-term and end of term visits to classrooms to engage with learner participants and to hear first-hand the impact of what they had learnt through using this resource in the classroom. The detailed notes taken during these meetings and classroom visits have helped inform the findings in this report.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutors involved in this project commented positively on the impact this research has had on their teaching, learning and assessment activities (see Appendices 2 and 3). Collec tively, they had appreciated the benefits of being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998), being able to share experiences, learn from each other and explore insights. As one tutor commented:

After seeing [my colleague’s] marking of homework in PDF format, I reached out to her as I wanted to improve my marking technique, too.

Individually, tutors were able to express how incorporating EDS into their teaching had A learner practising their digital skills.
enhanced the learning experience of their students and opened up new possibilities for
assessment activities. One tutor, who had focussed on incorporating the Zoom chat
facility in classes, described feeling personally ‘more confident’ about introducing digital skills into lessons. They had now started to plan for it and found using Zoom chat, for example, ‘very useful for writing activities, brainstorming and other tasks’.

Another tutor felt the project had ‘encouraged me to investigate alternative ways to set homework’ including, as the example below demonstrates, supporting students to use Padlet, which was enthusiastically embraced.

While teaching an online grammar class at Level 1/Level 2, this tutor also devised a homework activity using MS Forms. At the first attempt twelve learners completed the task, including three learners who hadn’t submitted their homework before. Buoyed by the success of this activity, the tutor has gone on to present a workshop on using MS Forms for assessment available to all tutors in ACL.

It has been inspiring to see how each of the tutors involved in the project have felt compelled to adapt or create another feature or theme for the EDS resource to meet the specific needs of their learners.

A good example is reflected in the comment of one learner whose tutor told us:

He would now be able to read his emails on being shown how to use the Speak accessibility function on his iPhone. He was amazed to have his texts read aloud too.

Another student with dyslexia put it even more succinctly:

You literally changed my life.

Organisational Development

Islington ACL has implemented considerable change in supporting learners developing their digital skills. This is most evident in the swift migration to online teaching and learning in response to classrooms closing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This EDS project has highlighted a raft of new opportunities for promoting the use of technology in teaching and learning and in supporting learners in its use. Moreover, learners have been encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning through stretch and challenge activities whereby, for example, they created and presented coursework using digital technology (see Appendix 5 for further details).

It has been pleasing to report on the positive collaborations among tutor colleagues, sharing information, problem solving and inspiring further experimentation. In turn, this has fostered even greater positive relationships with learners who have had their lives transformed by their tutor introducing them to digital technology, as one learner put it:

Thank goodness I have learnt about this now!

The project team have shared the resource with other institutions nearby, but have not had any feedback from them as yet. Internally, project participants from three curriculum areas have already begun sharing their insights with staff from other curriculum areas, including devising new resources in online workshops. We look forward to them presenting further their creativity and innovation in forthcoming Inset days.

Learning from this project

In reviewing the reflections of tutors involved in this project, several key themes emerged (see Appendices 2 and 3 for a comprehensive exploration of these themes). Firstly, tutors said they felt encouraged to investigate and innovate. Secondly, they could see more clearly now the barriers experienced by their learners’ digital exclusion or lack of confidence in their digital skills (see also Appendix 4). There was a universal appreciation of the benefits to be had from working collaboratively with colleagues and timetabling for that to happen. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the project heightened awareness of the transformative impact of embedding EDS in these ESOL/English classes and the ripple effect it had on other areas of learners’ lives.

There were some challenges early on, but the project team readily adapted to modifying the resource themselves when it became necessary to do so. Linked to this was the importance of having up to date software and technology available to allow quality teaching and learning of EDS to occur.

While not a particular concern for this project, conversations were had about possible ‘institutional resistance’ to introducing a ‘digital skills experiment’ into non-digital skills curriculum areas. One of the welcome impacts of engaging in a recognised evidence-based research project like this one is that it validates the activity and places it firmly in the domain of maintaining and developing professional standards. It also underlines the importance of disseminating and discussing the findings widely with teaching colleagues and across all tiers of management.

Looking ahead, participants in this project are already working on their own innovations to add to the resource. A next step would be to invite teaching staff from other curriculum areas – vocational and employability, maths and family learning, for example – to incorporate the EDS resource into their activities. It is anticipated that participants in this latest project will act as mentors to those who respond to this invitation.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 9. Critically review and apply your knowledge of educational research, pedagogy, and assessment to develop evidence-informed practice.

    Within our own organisation the project supported cross curriculum collaboration and an extension of this project is to encourage other curriculum colleagues to develop and share their own EDS resources. Action research and evidenced-based research within ACL is increasingly being seen as having a role to play in meeting objectives like closing the digital skills gap among local residents, raising standards of teaching and learning and promoting professional collaboration to the benefit of the service.

  • 10. Share and update knowledge of effective practice with colleagues, networks and/or research communities to support improvement.

    Tutors took part in bi-weekly meetings with the whole project team to discuss their own practice and share how it had impacted on their learners. Tutors were encouraged to engage learners to speak openly about participating in the research and the impact it had on their learning. This provided a useful triangulation for assessing the overall impact of the project.

  • 16. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    The project focused on developing online resources that would give learners the underpinning knowledge and skills to support their own online learning. It was encouraging to see how quickly the digital skills acquired fed into their personal online activities with social media as well as enhanced confidence in accessing online resources for independent learning.


Appendix 2: Tutor Reflections 1

Appendix 3: Tutor Reflections 2

Appendix 4: Case Studies

Appendix 5: Learner Work Demonstrating Before & After Intervention

Appendix 6: Pro forma Templates


Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, Meaning and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Read the team’s previous action research project.

10b. City of Bristol College

Can language learning apps enhance the classroom experience for ESOL learners?

City of Bristol College

This project aimed to explore a digital language learning package to support ESOL learners in the city of Bristol. The digital tool decided on was FlashAcademy. The project team sought to gain honest, accurate feedback from their learners as to their experiences using the digital learning package, in addition to feedback from teachers on their impact. The project explored how to use the tools in and outside of the classroom in a blended learning format and through asynchronous activities. The project culminated in an event bringing all the project participants together: the managers, the teachers and the learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our project took place with five groups of learners over different ages, genders and levels. It took place within the ESOL department of City of Bristol College, both ESOL 16–18-year-olds and ESOL adults. The range of groups was Entry Level 1 to Level 1. The majority of the research took place within groups of more than 10 learners and one lecturer worked individually with learners. There were three lecturers in total and two project leads.

The project team wanted to find out how effective (if at all) language learning apps are to support learning both in and out of the classroom. The pandemic and subsequent forced use of online delivery served to bring the issue of digital language learning to the forefront of teacher discussions. Teachers of learners at all levels were taken by surprise at how well many learners coped with using their mobile phones to access their language learning. Towards the end of the last academic year, some teachers trialled a standalone language app with a small group to supplement their online lessons and wanted to extend this further with a different software package.

Other Contextual Information

City of Bristol College is the principal provider of ESOL courses in the city. The ESOL provision is large (approx. 1500 learners per year), extremely broad and aims to support all learners to gain language skills, qualifications and confidence to progress in their education, work and independent lives in the city.

Screenshot of FlashAcademy topics.

Figure 1: Some of the topics on FlashAcademy


We chose to use the FlashAcademy platform for this project as it had a number of different features that were attractive to the teachers, and we felt learners would enjoy using it. One learner log-in gave access to multiple devices which meant that they could use college laptops or their own devices. It was accessible in 30+ home languages and had content that fit the required levels including vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. Behind the scenes, teachers could set specific lessons for their groups or the learners could work through the content. Teachers could track progress via the app’s reporting settings and the learners could play games, allowing them to score points on a leader board.

Screenshot of lessons set by teachers.

Figure 2: Lessons set by teachers

After spending time becoming familiar with the app and showing it to learners, the teachers decided to use the app in different ways. They used it to set tasks as homework or asynchronous lessons to supplement the learning in the classroom. Two teachers also used it as an extension activity for when learners finish tasks sooner in the lesson, or as an independent learning activity while they hold tutorials with individual learners.

Towards the end of the research period, each teacher used a tutorial session to capture learners’ thoughts using a semi-structured interview format. This enabled the teachers to capture the views of the whole class as not all were able to attend the wrap up event.

Screenshot of leader board.

Figure 3: Leader board

At the end of the research, the group decided to bring all of the learners involved in the research together for a final capture of evidence (see Appendix 3) and as a social activity to thank them for their participation. The teachers posed closed questions to the learners and got them to move around the room to the number that best reflected their answer. Following that, the learners were put into smaller focus groups and asked open ended questions. Prizes were awarded to the learner in each class that had scored the highest number of points and they were treated to a buffet lunch.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

From analysing the evidence, we found that learners mostly enjoyed using the app to supplement their learning and, in most cases, the content of the app supported what was being taught in the classroom. This enabled the learners to continue their learning at home. We asked learners questions about the level of challenge and most found content very easy. For the most part, learners found the app very easy to use and were able to navigate through its different functions. There was no difference in response between the adults or the 16-18s. When we asked how much they felt they learned from the app, the responses were very mixed and evenly spread between the markers. They felt it supplemented what they were doing in the classroom but they didn’t learn much in the way of new content.

Within the appendices below, responses are shown for all questions, with some descriptive comments to give a feel for the numbers and statements. One thing that we were very surprised about was the fact that the majority of learners decided to use the app in English rather than their home language. One of the key selling points for the app was that the learners can access it in more than thirty home languages, but some outlined that there were mistakes in the translation and that if they are there to learn English – they wanted it all in English!

The learners particularly liked the gamification of the app, especially the 16-18 age group who are predominantly male. They explained that they liked the competition and moving up the leader board. This was less of a highlight for the adult groups.

Organisational Development

This academic year, the 16-18 and Adult ESOL teams were merged. This project provided a great opportunity for staff to work together who had previously never met as they worked on different campuses, within different departments and different age groups. Apart from the final event, we conducted the whole project remotely. The team worked collaboratively using a Microsoft Teams page, Teams meetings and shared documents to work effectively without having ever met.

Following on from this project, the team are currently exploring other apps and platforms to support language learning in the next academic year. We think that by involving staff in the decision-making process and the trial, there has been a greater buy-in and commitment to the platform. The developers were very keen to support us in this project and offered several training and troubleshooting sessions for the staff to help them get up and running with it.

One of the teachers stated:

Normally, I don’t use apps in my teaching/classroom as I have regarded them as a distraction from traditional teaching and potentially creating more work for me. However, since starting this research I have been pleasantly surprised that in FlashAcademy I can facilitate learning through technology by setting tasks/lessons based on classroom topics for learners. For some learners their natural curiosity has led them to do different levels and lessons independently. My adult learners have many commitments and use this app to fit around their busy lives.

This teachers’ full account can be found as Appendix 2.

Learning from this project

Reflecting on the use of online platforms and apps and what led us to make choices for ourselves and the learners has been a useful exercise. Some of the learners appeared to enjoy the attention of being part of a research project and having their opinions being valued too. This is something that we are keen to take forward as a college; having regular learner engagement events to discuss different topics will add a lot of value.

Within our organisation, like most, funding is always a struggle. As much as we would like to invest in digital platforms, often teachers source their own or search out free equivalents. The teachers found that many of the features of this app were useful e.g. being able to track learner progress via a dashboard, being able to use one log-in on multiple devices and having content that broadly followed the ESOL curriculum. However, they did find that it was occasionally glitchy. Some learners lost all of their ‘points’ and so were back at the bottom of the leader board despite their best efforts. They also found that the app had a facelift halfway through the project which confused both staff and learners when they logged back on.

Getting the balances between giving learners something to do versus something that is relevant and useful to current topics/skills and between ease of use and usefulness is difficult. If an app is difficult to use or unreliable, it is no good to the busy teacher.

FlashAcademy falls down in some areas at the moment although it does have its merits too which come out in the research feedback and there were more positives from the more motivated adult learners.

Following on and inspired by the work on this project, we are considering which apps or platforms we would like to offer for our staff and students for the next academic year. This project has given us the tools to critique the different features they offer. We quickly challenged our own assumptions around digital learning and technology and will be spending time with the rest of the team so that they can see its benefits and be prepared for the year ahead.

Screenshot of the topics with teacher and learner feedback on top inc: multimodal format, ability to repeat as and when needed, and fulfilling a natural curiosity

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    We utilised the electronic resource with a wide variety of learners, gathered feedback in various contexts and reflected on that feedback to inform how we could best meet future needs of similar groups of learners. For example, noting that an option to allow some learners to receive instruction in their mother tongue aided some learners (but not the majority who preferred the simplicity of having both instructions and learning in English as the language being learned.) This may inform our future use of similar electronic resources.

  • 5. Value and promote social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion.

    Our project involved learners from a range of backgrounds including age, gender, ethnicity, disability etc. All were supported to participate and those who struggled with the technology were provided with additional support. When we brought the learners together at the end of the project, they were able to socialise and meet people from other classes usually based on other campuses. We managed to connect three learners who had come from a minority ethnic group within Afghanistan who swapped numbers and have become friends.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Not all of the teachers involved were keen users of technology in the classroom. One in particular used it very little. This project has given her the confidence to reflect on her practice and to work with more ‘techy’ colleagues to trial new things in her classroom. While the teachers work in the same department, it is very large and they didn’t know each other so it has provided the opportunity to share practice and resources.

    One of the other teachers sits in the middle and uses some tech but, during the project, she applied for an internal position of ‘digital champion’ to support college staff with developing their digital skills.

10a. Essex ACL

‘Teaching nuggets’: go-to resources for supporting ESOL and low-level literacy learners with digital skills.

ACL Essex

This was a project to exemplify cross-curricular collaboration between IT, English and ESOL colleagues in the creation of fun, easy to use resources that promote good digital skills and literacy teaching practice. These resources were intended to be complete and ready to deliver in any classroom.

ESOL, English and Digital learners participated in the project and had the opportunity to reflect on and review the ‘nugget’ resources and the impact on their learning. We unearthed a real hunger for collaboration between our areas. Furthermore, the project has promoted a practical approach to resource creation and sharing that is having a reach throughout our organisation and beyond.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Ensuring no one is left behind on the journey to digital literacy and being confident in participating in life in the digital age, had become a priority for us post lockdown.

In some cases, asking tutors to explicitly teach digital skills to ESOL/literacy learners was not an option as tutors themselves lacked confidence. We also noticed that offering ESOL/literacy learners a place on a digital skills course was prohibitive as IT tutors felt less equipped to differentiate.

We had observed that in the abrupt move to online teaching our already time-poor tutors had become overwhelmed with the volume of new material, links, ideas, and resources available to them. The rationale was to give the resources an immediately practical application, rather than anything steeped in theory.

Therefore, we set out to create quick, easy and fun resources that any tutor, regardless of subject specialism, could use to encourage learner confidence using tech. Moreover, the collaboration would embolden IT tutors with their understanding of how to approach differentiation for ESOL/ literacy learners whilst teaching digital courses.

Other Contextual Information

ACL Essex is the leading adult education provider in Essex and has adult community learning centres in most of the major towns in the county. The eight sites across Essex deliver a combination of centre-based, online live and online self-study courses.

Functional Skills English, ESOL and Digital Skills tutors, based at different centres across Essex, were invited to participate in the project by Curriculum Leads. Tutors attended an online workshop to collaborate on ideas for the teaching ‘nuggets’.

As the resources were developed and made more accessible, more tutors from across the service were invited to use them and subsequently participated in the project.

The learners who participated were attending accredited ESOL, Supported Learning English, Functional Skills English and Digital classes from pre-entry to Entry Level 2. They were given the opportunity to give feedback on the teaching nuggets and reflect on their digital progress.


We initially started by focussing on ‘pitching’ the idea to teaching staff (Appendix 3). We presented the phases of the project as the following:

  • Phase 1: ideas sharing
  • Phase 2: contribution of content
  • Phase 3: development of content into physical / digital resources
  • Phase 4: trial and results.

Screenshot to show resources produced during planning phase of the project.We consulted staff about using their time to:

  • participate in an interactive webinar
  • create and maintain a collaborative space
  • submit ideas for the content of the resources
  • assist in producing the resources
  • trial the resources with learners and collate feedback
  • any additional ad hoc sharing of ideas and thoughts.

Once we had gathered tutors and managers who wanted to be involved, we delivered an interactive webinar (Appendix 3) to generate the first ideas for resources. The resource ideas needed to be moulded into a specific ‘template’ to ensure they were usable and could be easily accessed by time-poor tutors.

An initial set of these ‘nuggets’ were then trialled by tutors at opportunities that we felt would integrate well with existing lesson and course planning. We made the ‘nuggets’ accessible to staff via TEAMS, internal team meetings, word of mouth and a Padlet (See Appendix 3).

Feedback started to come in via MS forms, photos of learners in the classroom engaging with the activities (‘nuggets in action’) and another Padlet for written reflections of using the resources.

Images showing learners developing their digital skills.

In January we identified, via the support of our mentor, that the project needed upscaling in terms of the amount of teaching nuggets being produced as well as the generating of feedback. She encouraged us to re-assess who was involved and how we were assigning tasks to participants. We brought new people on board (tutors low on hours or those with developmental feedback from Observations of Teaching and Learning) and this, as predicted by Chloë our Mentor, resulted in more output and more feedback. This increase in production was an uplift we all needed and from there we saw the enthusiasm to share the project through the organisation and beyond grow. We increased the broadcast reach for the ideas as finished nuggets via an internal Ideas Room, curriculum managers’ meeting and a blog on PDNorth FE Tapestry and NATECLA East of England website.

Additionally, we discovered that to make these resources ‘accessible’ to staff they needed to be in places where staff go to plan. Our approach of sharing internally and via Padlet was, we realised, not hitting the brief of these resources becoming part of a tutor’s natural planning arsenal. In a team meeting, ESOL staff identified Skills Workshop as one of their top places to source new resources:

Screenshot of polled responses to what is your go to for planning lesson activities.

So, we contacted Skills Workshop and they have published some of the ideas.

Device of the DayScreenshot of keyboard confidence resource.
Supermarket Sweep
Keyboard Confidence
Identifying devices and icons

We scheduled a final session with participants to conclude findings and gather feedback on just how usable they now find these.

When we have come to the end of the project, we thought more about the ethical considerations around who the work belonged to and how it should be credited when sharing. In the final meeting with contributing participants, we posed this question to them and asked if they felt their input had been sufficiently credited. Some people felt they had not. As a result, we have ensured practitioner names are attached to all resources shared on internal and external sites.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutor feedback from ESOL Intermediate doing the ‘Join the Library’ nugget:

Used with 8 Intermediate students… They were all familiar with borrowing books: one had already used library computers, but the rest were surprised to find out the many facilities on offer. They were particularly surprised by the crafts available and that there were so many things for children. None had heard about the Library of Things and were interested in this.

They enjoyed searching the website together. They supported each other and it prompted good discussion. By supporting each other, they found all the info they wanted. It took about 30 minutes (also inc some extra discussion/vocab about genres of books).

Digital Skills Tutor Feedback on Identifying Icons nugget:

I used this as an opener in all six of my Digital Skills classes. They all really enjoyed it and gave positive feedback on Teams. It was a little easy for some of them (L1s). I liked the fact that they could see their answers and then have another attempt to try and get a better score; so learning directly from it.

Learner feedback on Supermarket Sweep nugget:

This was good for me as my keyboard skills are not very good. My spelling is not very good but the computer was able to guess what I meant which helped me with my list. I need to do more keyboard skills.’

It was good to put a list together and easier to get into the website than I thought. I copied my list in and this helped me recognise the words.’

I am a beginner keyboard user, so I am very slow. It was interesting but I need more practise.

The nuggets encouraged easy steps to digitise existing activities. As such, learners have increased access to activities which naturally embed digital skills. For example, a generic writing task, such as writing an invitation to a friend for dinner, can be transformed by encouraging real time use of digital resources. This could be done by typing a real email on a mobile phone and sending to the tutor rather than a paper version of an email template.

For example:

Screenshot of an email from learner.Aside from the impact on learners, the project has facilitated improved collaboration between curriculum areas. The group sessions for generating ideas provided a platform for sharing that didn’t exist before between IT, English and ESOL teams. Finding the opportunities has been hard (due to the nature of our organisation spread over 9 venues and our current workload) but the opportunities have opened up visibility of ESOL/literacy issues to the IT curriculum and communication on enrolments has increased.

Additionally, the teaching nuggets, encouraged time-poor tutors to understand that improving learner access to digital opportunities is neither difficult or time consuming or a high brow idea. One tutor, whose most recent Observation of Teaching and Learning saw an action plan to digitalise some of her writing activities and created the ‘live emails’ resource, reflected:

I love how easy it is to not only to use this format, but also to share samples anonymously for correcting as a class. I will definitely use live emails again.

Tutor feedback has been that they have been empowered by their ideas being shared widely, and this has had an impact on morale and a sense that their CPD and new approach to lesson planning is now having an impact. “Feedback on Device of the Day has brightened a gloomy week” reported one of our participants.

The enthusiasm for this ‘off the shelf’ lesson planning concept gained traction with extended and senior leadership. Our vice principle reported that he had “ideas for nuggets on sticky notes all over my desk” after the project was shared in an ACL ‘ideas room’ event.
Literacy learners and tutors are a resource poor section of our provision. This project has plugged a gap to an extent. For example, one of our participants who works across English and Supported Learning has expressed how inspiring the project has been for creating and accessing fresh resources.

Organisational Development

ACL Essex is an educational service which is divided and managed by curriculum area – not by geographical area. Although Microsoft Teams has allowed better team building within each curriculum area, with team meetings now better attended than ever, there is little collaboration across the curriculum areas. We believe that this project has offered an opportunity for tutors to come together, consider other disciplines and to think more creatively to develop digital teaching nuggets.

Although the current focus is on supporting and encouraging digital opportunities for learners with low literacy skills, the project has the potential to embrace more curriculum areas as we encourage all learners at all levels to actively engage with the digital world, improve their skills and grow in confidence.

Moving forward, we want the project to have a legacy. We intend to develop further nuggets to be made available on topics such as online safety, sustainability, accessibility, British Values and numeracy.

Our technology manager has been enthusiastic in promoting the collaboration between the curriculum areas and the digital platforms we use. The nuggets will be embedded as part of a planned Digi Fest event in the summer. This has been a great improvement for the question we came up against in terms of how we would give the nuggets’ reach.

Learning from this project

What went well: when we communicated the idea for this the response was great within the platforms we shared. Having IT, ESOL and English practitioners was so inspiring and really highlighted how real and relevant this project was.

Even better if: this has been about scale and timing. We were slow off the mark with producing the content and spent too long in recruiting staff, pitching the idea and generating ideas. This left us little time to give the finished resources a platform and therefore generate the volume of feedback in the timescale.

An additional challenge was things we couldn’t control, such as lots of staff absences and cover, which means some work didn’t get done in as timely a fashion. We reflected and scaled back and focused on just a few nuggets creating a template for future development.

Lastly, we, like any content creators, worry about the ‘updateability’ of the resources. Against such a fast-changing educational backdrop and with sustainability in mind, we chose not to produce hard copies of the bank of resources we created – rather to only make the resources available via the digital channels mentioned above. However, that still leaves us with the challenge of how and how often we should update the nuggets. Even within the timescale of the project, one nugget on the topic of ‘online form filling’ around an activity to order lateral flow tests in real time, started to feel like old news. We hope that by really promoting the simplicity of turning an idea into a nugget by using the simple Nugget template, will mean that we can just keep on collecting the ideas as they come in rather than update existing ones and as such can build an interesting back catalogue of teaching ideas.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project allowed space for IT, English and ESOL teams to share their expertise and understand the pedagogy and value of different approaches – in a way that does not happen regularly. For example, using verbal recollections to relay steps in a process underpins processing of language (e.g., use of imperative) but also allows to breakdown and simplify processes required to be successful in digital tasks.

  • 4. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    This project offered an opportunity to promote functional digital skills across multiple curriculum areas. By embedding the ideas from Digital Skills Framework within other areas, we were actively facilitating the teaching of themes around staying safe online.

  • 6. Develop collaborative and respectful relationships with learners, colleagues and external stakeholders.

    From the offset the project focussed on bringing staff together. We focussed our attention on promoting the project to multiple curriculum areas and setting up a collaborative space for ideas to be shared in. We facilitated an interactive webinar as part of the idea forming stage and this was received as being uplifting for practitioners who have often felt they work in isolation. Lack of time and space to work across curriculum areas is cited by tutors as a barrier to sharing of practice in our organisation which is spread across multiple sites throughout the county. This project opened up avenues for how this can be overcome.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Planning and collaboration resources

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.

Sharing and Dissemination

In addition to the resources being shared via The Skills Workshop website, the project lead wrote two blogs about the project:

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: Demystifying digital’. FE Tapestry. Available at: Teaching Nuggets – PDNorth #FEtapestry [accessed 8.6.22].

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital’. NATECLA East of England. Available at: Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital – NATECLA East of England  [accessed 8.6.22].

9c. Buckinghamshire College Group

Can ESOL pedagogy be applied to GCSE and Functional Skills delivery to develop responsive teaching and learning?

Buckinghamshire College Group

This project aimed to utilise ESOL teaching methodologies, learning techniques and strategies to develop and enhance Functional Skills and GCSE English delivery to Study Programme and Apprenticeship students.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The original remit of the project aimed to develop effectiveness of delivery of Functional Skills English to Apprentices who had English as a second language and develop Functional Skills delivery to ESOL students. However, at our first meeting, we discussed how teachers with a CELTA qualification or ESOL background tended to approach teaching from a student centred, learning by task, or discovery standpoint, whereas GCSE English teachers expressed that they sometimes felt constrained by the GCSE syllabus and compelled to deliver exam style content. Therefore, we hoped that exploring ESOL pedagogy would enable more active and discovery-led learning to meet individual needs.

Other Contextual Information

ESOL teachers developed and delivered the sessions then Functional Skills teachers attended the sessions and reflected on the approaches then both the ESOL teachers and FS/GCSE teachers adapted their classroom practice

Our action research was part of The Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and involved the English and ESOL departments within our FE college. Our project was a planned collaboration between two departments to share teaching methodologies and expertise. The project had a layered approach in terms of the ‘students’ within the plan, act, observe and reflect model of research. Firstly, the project team comprised of the manager and two ESOL teachers who developed an in-house training programme. Secondly, this was delivered to six Functional Skills/GCSE teachers, who reflected on their learning in these sessions. Thirdly, the ESOL teachers and the Functional Skills/GCSE teachers adapted their practice based on their reflections on sessions to trial new approaches with their students, meaning twenty groups of students were involved in the research.


Our project focused on the development of an in-house training course based on the key pedagogical teaching and learning principles of ESOL delivery. We developed a structure for our course, which originally focused on nine key aspects of language teaching:

  • Foreign language lesson
  • Lesson planning
  • ESOL lesson formats, (please see The British Council website for further information e.g., Presentation, Production and Practice (PPP), discovery approach, Test, Teach, Test (TTT)).
  • Grammar and vocabulary lessons
  • Clarifying and checking meaning
  • Classroom interaction patterns
  • Elicitation
  • Feedback
  • Effective reinforcement for motivation.

Through collaborative discussion and reflection, we refined and combined key techniques to develop our final course structure of five key sessions (see Appendix 3 for further details):

  • Project launch/Foreign Language lesson
  • Planning/lesson format and context setting
  • Teaching grammar
  • Teaching vocabulary
  • Elicitation, feedback, and motivational techniques.

Originally, we planned for our delivery to be over ten weeks with a week of implementation and reflection between each session. We had also planned for all sessions to be face to face although this changed as the project evolved and some sessions were delivered via zoom.

Teacher reflection was a key factor in our research model and was incorporated into taught sessions and implementation weeks. We decided not to be prescriptive on the method of reflection that teachers should take and as a result we had greater participation in reflection.

Outcomes and Impact

To an extent we met our objectives but not necessarily in the way that we had identified at the beginning of the project. As an organisation we had clearly identified what we wanted to develop, how we planned to do it and the impact we expected as a result. However, the very nature of action research meant it was not as straightforward as this and we ended up learning even more than we expected, as much from what did not work as well as from what did.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teachers engaged with the language lesson (Appendix 4) and enjoyed it much more than we could have thought possible when planning the sessions. They all identified feelings of uneasiness, vulnerability, being engaged but uncomfortable, feeling confused but also interested during the twenty-minute language lesson. Teachers fed back that they valued this insight as some had forgotten what it could be like for students when learning. They all said they would consider this when planning. In terms of strategies used to engage and understand the language lesson, teachers stated asking questions/valuing repetition, mentally repeating sentences and teacher body language and gestures. They all reflected on the importance of these, and that the activity served as a reminder when planning to think about the smaller things and how these support students. In terms of changes to teaching the following was identified: activities to support repetition for students; strategies to support student perseverance as well as valuing and praising student perseverance; scaffolding activities; greater use of sentence starters; increasing feedback and positive reinforcement within lessons; linking first language to English for vocabulary; sentence structure and adding more images to help students visualise what they are reading.

Organisational Development

Organisationally, we had identified what we felt could support key improvements and wanted to support teachers to explore this aspect. As a management team, we wanted teachers to lead the project but, for various reasons outside of our control, the lead role kept coming back to managers. As an organisation, we felt that this may hinder exploration and engagement with the project, but that was not the case. The project provided managers with a clearer understanding of the internal battle some teachers have in terms of their ideas on how teaching and learning should be, and that changing or developing teaching from teacher centred to student centred is not always straightforward. Understanding this and supporting teachers to unpick this aspect is important to them being able to reflect on and implement changes. This was one of the key learning aspects of the project and has influenced next steps.

Learning from this project

The concept of delivering a course to teachers to enable exploration and implementation into lessons was overall an effective concept. However, the approach for the course was not as effective as we had first planned. Timing of the project and staffing shortages due to Covid-19 impacted our original plan of a ten-week delivery. We planned to deliver the whole course face to face. However, because we wanted all staff to participate across all sites, some sessions ended up being delivered online. The language lesson was delivered face to face whereas the sessions on lesson format and grammar were remote online sessions Therefore, we need to consider whether the language session went well because it was face to face or a more neutral lesson that all teachers could engage with. We realised that in order for teachers to fully embrace an approach they had to experience the modelling of it. Remote delivery at times hindered TTT or discovery model and made it feel more PPP, thus reinforcing the delivery we were trying to move away from.

We also realised that changing approaches to delivery is not always straightforward and teachers need time to unpick their views of the way they think teaching and learning should happen as well as have more time to reflect and implement methods. We had an expectation the teachers in the group would embrace, implement, and develop teaching learning and assessment activities at the same rate as a result of the course, which was unrealistic. Some teachers thrived within the sessions; they had ‘lightbulb moments’, were open to implementing and trialling new approaches and were not put off if they did not work first time. However other teachers struggled to see how the concepts could be applied and needed more scaffolding of activities to identify changes. Some teachers also had reservations around the timing of the course with exams looming and struggled with balancing experimentation with supporting students to cover what was needed for exams.

Moving forward, we plan to complement these structured language sessions with a lesson study approach (EEF 2020 and see also Appendix 6). Encouraging further collaboration through the joint planning, delivery, and observation. Our next steps are to revisit the sessions and use the Lesson Study model within the summer term as we can then link this to adapting schemes of work.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    We had always planned to facilitate a collaboration and sharing of expertise between ESOL, and GCSE/FS teachers and the action research project provided dedicated time to explore key language pedagogy. The project enabled teachers from different departments and with differing lengths of service and experience to build positive relationships with peers, have professional discussions and explore key ideas and approaches to improve teaching and learning. This aspect we felt was a key success of the project and something we plan to continue to support teachers to do (see Appendix 5 for further details).

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    For the teacher who delivered the Korean language lesson, the experience of delivering to peers enabled them to reflect on the reading aspect of GCSE delivery and the value of pre-teaching vocabulary for ESOL or EHCP students. The teacher decided to implement a Quizizz task initially midway through a session, but this was not so effective as students were then distracted by their phones. The teacher tried it again but as a starter prior to the reading task and this worked well. The lesson was much smoother, and they felt it added more diversity to the classroom and teaching environment. Students enjoyed the classes and liked being able to use their phones to do the quiz, and one student said they liked competing against the class. Others valued finding a definition or an image to help visualise the word.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    Some teachers initially had reservations about the concept and felt their experiences as an ESOL and/or GCSE English teacher highlighted pedagogical challenges. Some teachers also felt that they needed to consider and evaluate their view that a teacher had a responsibility to teach. Therefore, they felt that in their own reflection and implementation they needed to bridge the divide between responsive teaching, learning and assessment and their current practices in the post-16 GCSE delivery and explore how to balance the two to optimise students’ learning.

    Following the language session, these teachers applied more pair work and small group activities into lessons. Following implementation, teachers could see the benefits with activities less teacher-centred and more student focused. These changes to delivery allowed more time to check the students’ work. This in turn seemed to increase the students’ levels of self-confidence as they had already received one to one feedback prior to whole class feedback (see Appendix 5 for further details).


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Language Course Structure

Appendix 4: Language Lesson

Appendix 5: Teacher Reflections

Appendix 6: The Lesson Study Model

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


The British Council (no date). ‘Guided Discovery’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The British Council (no date). ‘PPP’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The British Council (no date). ‘Teach, Teach, Test’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The Department for Education and Skills (2005). ‘Department for Education and Skills
Departmental Report 2005’. Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].

The Education Endowment Foundation (2022). ‘Lesson Study’. Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].

The Teacher Development Trust. 2022. ‘What is Lesson Study?’ Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].


Introducing participatory ESOL approaches into volunteer-led, informal ESOL settings


This project aimed to combine an understanding of adult learning theory with the use of participatory tools and techniques in community based English conversation groups run by SAVTE Language Volunteers. The project aimed to identify an effective approach for the introduction of participatory approaches in informal, volunteer-led ESOL settings.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The project aimed to enable volunteer ESOL teachers to facilitate participatory, localised ESOL speaking and listening activities in SAVTE conversation groups. The aim of introducing participatory approaches was to both change the role of a volunteer from that of ‘teacher’ who may sit apart from learning being experienced in the room, and to expand the experience of conversation groups for learners, into a more collaborative and experiential experience with direct relevance to issues and changes in their own lives. For further information on the relationship between adult learning theories and participatory ESOL, please see Appendix 3: Participatory ESOL and links to Adult Learning Theories.

The action research focused on the activities of SAVTE ESOL conversation group volunteers in Sheffield. Sixteen volunteers were involved in the initial stages of the project, representing ten different community-based conversation groups (many of which were running online at the time).

SAVTE conversation groups are volunteer led, meaning that trained volunteers, often working in pairs, plan and facilitate sessions to meet the interests and needs of adult learners in their groups. Volunteers are trained in informal methods for identifying language topics to explore in groups, how to exploit the opportunities for speaking and listening skills development within sessions and how to balance participation within groups as well as maintaining a safe, accessible learning environment.

Participatory ESOL approaches would not necessarily be a new idea or facilitation method to all volunteers, but this project aimed to introduce a session methodology and toolkit that could be used by all volunteers whether experienced educationalists or new to teaching.

Expected outcomes included:

  1. use of participatory approaches by volunteers to guide their groups of learners through the exploration of local issues, relevant to the lives of learners in the group
  2. increased ‘ownership’ of conversation group activities, focus and outcomes by learners within the group through their participation in the selection of topics for discussion and direction of focus, progression and outcomes, with volunteers stepping back to a more limited role of guide for activities
  3. increased community-engagement of learners in locally relevant issues through the collaborative analysis of issues and development of plans for collective action.


The screenshot below shows an overview of each stage of our action research project:

a flowchart illustrating the stages of the project

The initial stages of the project followed expectations; however, following feedback it became apparent that implementation of participatory approaches by volunteers would need to be supported in more depth than originally anticipated. In addition, it was decided to focus on a smaller selection of conversation groups. It became apparent that two groups in particular would provide an interesting research focus.

These two groups were chosen for a couple of reasons:

  • Both groups are running in an area in Sheffield subject to redevelopment and several learners were in the process of discovering how that would impact their homes and neighbourhood, in particular whether their houses were due to be demolished.
  • Both groups are run by volunteers who were keen to engage with this local situation and to support the groups’ participants to both understand the impact of the planned changes and have their views represented in the local council consultation.

Volunteers were supported by members of the research team to deliver participatory sessions, which followed a similar format to methods described by Bryers (2015) and The Learning and Work Institute (2017).

The table below describes the process we followed during our action research project. Some images that were generated during the participatory sessions are also shared:

  • Input
  • Visual inputs to the session as conversation starters and visual prompts to generate prior-known vocabulary, in this case, relating to the local neighbourhood – photos of housing (old & new), green spaces, roads, public transport, litter. Shops. Facilities and local Councillors (Image A).
  • Facilitated discussion
  • To capture the range of views and experiences and identify a specific subject familiar to all, that participants want to explore further as a group.
  • Problem analysis
  • A problem tree diagram (Image B) was used in both sessions to analyse an issue in greater depth. Identifying a problem or issue specifically, identifying the impact of this issue (Image C) for participants in the group, the possible causes (Image D) and then moving discussion onto exploring solutions or action that is needed.
  • Outputs
  • Recording ideas and identifying next steps that the group can either take themselves or plan to put in place to make improvements, either directly or by raising awareness and making their voices heard and their views represented.

images showing the local neighbourhood and a problem tree diagram in use (with post its)

Image A: Our neighbourhood and Image B: Problem tree diagram

close ups of the problem tree including causes at the roots and impacts in the canopy

Image C: impacts and Image D: causes

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Evaluation discussions with volunteers who participated in the sessions focused on two areas of the activity:

Supported volunteering – Several volunteers raised the need for additional support to carry out participatory sessions with their group. Suggestions included watching a session in full being ‘modelled’ by a staff member, having access to pre-prepared materials, for example, picture packs of visual prompts, pre-prepared flip charts for problem analysis and a simple session plan. These comments gave useful suggestions for the next stages of this project.

Topic relevance – All volunteers described the importance of ‘knowing what is familiar to everyone’ and finding a topic that is ‘relevant to all’ that ‘gives everyone an equal voice’ and acknowledges ‘everyone is starting in the same place’. These are valuable comments that give weight to the importance of careful planning to ensure familiar and universally relevant visual prompts for participants in a specific group are used. It highlights the important role of volunteers in building rapport with participants in their group. Being familiar with the lives and experiences of everyone is vital to achieve a genuinely participatory session.

Observations of the group sessions identified other important aspects of the research focus.

Language levels – Conversation groups use speaking and listening skills primarily in all their activities. Participatory approaches can be wholly speaking and listening based, but giving learners the opportunity to make their contributions and see these reflected visually on a flip chart or diagram requires them to be able to write comments or be comfortable with other participants scribing for them in a way that evidences their input accurately.

Observations of two different groups with differing levels of language (see group profiles, Appendix 4) evidenced that speaking and listening skills from Entry Level 3 and above provided a strong basis for topics to be explored in depth in English. Observations also highlighted the importance of this minimum level being common throughout the group, especially if there is no shared language within the group that can be used to support the understanding of participants with lower levels of speaking and listening skill.

Role of volunteers – Observing volunteers with their group highlighted the invaluable range of experience and expertise they bring to the sessions. In both sessions, the volunteers contributed their own experiences and knowledge to the discussions. This was a major contributing factor to the ‘success’ of each session – i.e. enabling the participants to reach a conclusion where they identified their next steps and agreed a plan of action to take the subject forward. As such, volunteers that bring a shared lived experience to the group can be viewed equally as participants in a group alongside the ESOL learners (Appendix 6). For example, volunteers who live in the same local area as learners will have a similar lived experience of local transport, facilities and services, schools and in some cases housing.

The impact of everyone participating in the session being an equal ‘expert by lived experience’ was observed as a key success factor to effectiveness of the session. In terms of the depth of discussion, the genuine relevance and importance of the content influenced the action planning that resulted.

In addition to learners supporting each other with suggestions to resolve particular issues, locally based volunteers were able to share locally relevant information about the changes to housing being proposed, how to contact local councillors, what a Tenants and Residents Association (TARA) is for, how it can be contacted and how local tenants can get involved in influencing improvements. In group 1, there were learners who became aware that their homes were planned to be demolished and who then planned how they would input to the consultation on this. In group 2, all learners were previously unaware of their TARA and as a result of the session planned to invite the TARA representative to their group.

Organisational Development

This OTLA 8 action research project has highlighted the important role that Language Volunteers, with a degree of lived experience shared with the ESOL learners they support, play.

As an organisation, this emphasises the importance of reaching and engaging potential volunteers within the same communities as the ESOL learners who participate in SAVTE activities. These communities may be a local area or neighbourhood, or similarly a shared lived experience of migration, asylum or resettlement in the UK (see Appendix 5, Locally based steps into language volunteering).

This finding gives direction to SAVTE’s organisational aim of widening participation in volunteering and overcoming any barriers to volunteering that individuals may face, particularly those from under-represented communities in terms of locality or experiences of migration.

Learning from this project

There were several features relating to the groups and participants involved in this project that were critical to its success.

Firstly, the identification of groups where there was a ‘hot topic’ immediately relevant to participants’ lives, both learners and volunteers, and that was equally important to them. This provided motivation in both groups to engage with different activities and approaches as the subject was significant for everyone involved.

Secondly, the willingness and enthusiasm of volunteers to be involved and try something new. This engagement was, again, aided by the fact that they themselves were connected to and interested in the subject of the sessions.

More time is needed to trial this approach with a wider number of groups, in different localities and looking at a wider range of issues. Future research activities should also aim to evaluate the impact of the experience for learners in conversation groups.

Identifying methods to achieve equitable involvement in sessions amongst participants with differing levels of literacy would also be a useful contribution.

To date, published participatory learning guides and articles focus on use of participatory approaches by experienced, often qualified teachers in ESOL classes where reading and writing skills are also being developed. This research activity offers a new insight into the use of these approaches by trained volunteers in informal, community based, conversation group ESOL settings and, as such, provides a new contribution to the field of ESOL volunteer recruitment, training and support, which can be built on to introduce improvements to the sector and new experiences for all participants.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    This project has used collaborative learning methods, which meet the needs of learners with ‘spiky profiles’ – those with lower literacy levels are still able to fully participate.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    This project activity has demonstrated the ‘bridging’ role of a participatory activity where everyone in the room is a genuine participant with shared experience of the topic being explored. As such it offers an approach to overcome traditional perceptions of where ‘power’ lies in a classroom, as all participants can contribute and collaborate equally.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    This project builds on theories of adult learning which highlight the importance of using immediately relevant subject matter which is of importance to the adult participants to maximise engagement and reflection.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Participatory ESOL and links to Adult Learning Theories

Appendix 4: Group Profiles

Appendix 5: Locally Based Steps into Language Volunteering


Bryers, D., (2015). ‘Participatory ESOL’ Language Issues 26.2 p.55.

Learning and Work Institute, (2017). Citizens’ Curriculum Activity Pack for Participatory Learning. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

Tusting, K., and Barton, D., (2003). Models of adult learning: a literature review. London: NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy).

Freire, P., (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

Auerbach, E. R., (1992) Making Meaning, Making Change: Participatory Curriculum Development for Adult ESL Literacy. Center for Applied Linguistics/ERIC.

9a. New College Durham

Improving writing for ESOL students stuck at Entry Level 3

New College Durham

This project aimed to help students who were having difficulty progressing from Entry Level 3 (E3) to Level 1 (L1) due to weaker writing skills. We trialled different strategies to develop writing and liaised with Functional Skills (FS) tutors. We learnt having an intense focus on writing skills benefits overall language learning and confidence.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners and tutors working togetherWe have a number of students who have plateaued at E3, hindering progress with the language they need in daily life. We sought to find ways to break down this barrier and empower them to be better writers, using a focus on writing systems. Initially, we focussed on how feedback informs writing, but after some interesting reading on a project working with children who struggle to read (Walter, Dockrell and Connelly, 2021) we broadened the scope to consider interventions at text, sentence and word level.

Other Contextual Information

working collaboratively during the projectTwo ESOL tutors carried out research with one ESOL group each: the first was a group of students living in the UK for some time with highly effective verbal communication skills but weaker literacy skills and less accurate grammar (the literacy group); the second was a mixed group of ESOL students with a more EFL profile, many of whom hold professional qualifications from their own countries (mainstream ESOL). We liaised with tutors from the FS English team, and a key outcome from this was being able to recruit a mentor for each group: an adult FS student and a sixth form student.


Here you can see the stages of our action research, as we explored how we can develop our practice in supporting Entry Level 3 students with their writing skills. At each stage of our research, the two ESOL tutors worked closely together, as well as with the FS English team. See Appendices 3b-d for examples of changes to our practice, and examples of student work.

a screenshot of a flowchart showing the approach the project team took

The classes followed different approaches which provided us with opportunities for interesting professional discussion, as well as the chance to learn from each other whilst doing our research. The reason for this difference was to look at a range of strategies. Each tutor chose to do what they felt more comfortable with. This diagram shows the divergence of approach.

flowcharts showing the different process of a approaches the literacy and mainstream ESOL classes took

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Increased focus on writing has borne fruit in following areas:

  • Better writing skills. We found that writing was better planned and more coherent across both groups. There were noticeable improvements in the grammar and spelling of the students in the literacy group as can be seen by the examples below from early on in the course, and the February test.

Start of the year:

example of student writing at the start of the year


example of student writing in February

  • Better understanding and more accurate use of grammar in both spoken and written work (see Appendix 2 and example above)
  • Increased confidence. Students have reported that they feel more confident since starting the course. This manifests itself in them taking the opportunity to speak to other students across college during college events, and seeking out opportunities to communicate with others.
  • Students achieving goals outside college. Two of the students from the literacy class have found employment during the course. One stated that she would not have had the confidence to fill in the application form before starting the course.
  • Improvements in learner performance. It is interesting that both approaches saw improvements in learner performance, although it is not possible to state categorically that one was more successful than the other.

Organisational Development

Organisational developments included:

  • Increased awareness across student body (mentors) of what ESOL is and who the students are.
  • Increased working across departments (ESOL and FS). Staff and students are now more likely to work together.
  • Future training for FS staff from ESOL staff. The curriculum manager for ESOL has been asked to work with FS tutors in the future to better support those working with non-native speakers and the language difficulties they may have.

Learning from this project

We learnt that there are no quick fixes to an entrenched problem such as poor writing skills. At the mid-way point, following progress tests, we were feeling disheartened that we could not see the big gains we had hoped for. But after speaking to the students, we realised that some of the gains were not visible in their writing as such, but those detailed above (confidence, communication, etc).

Following on from that, we learnt to temper our own expectations, and recognise that even small steps forward can represent big gains. The fact that one student felt able to even fill in an application form, a task she had avoided for some time such was her reluctance to write, represents a huge step forward.

We also realised that teaching one skill in isolation is actually not possible. By focussing on writing, we were bringing in more focus on grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc, all of which benefit language skills overall.

Finally, language improvement brings all sorts of benefits with it, including in the ‘soft skills’ of confidence and resilience.

We worked with the FS team and feel we all benefited from it. However, it would have been even better had they not been going through structural change at the same time, and therefore not able to devote as much time as hoped for to the project. Similarly, the stress of persistent and prolonged staff absence due to COVID-19 put a huge strain on the project lead who was not able to spend as much time as planned on the project at certain times.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our project gave us permission to focus more on writing skills, and by doing so, we were able to break down the barrier of fear that holds so many back from writing regularly. We were able to give students the space they needed to understand what was required of them and to plan thoroughly for the task ahead.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project enabled us to work with colleagues from the FS English team, to draw on their knowledge and share ideas across both teams. It has led to a closer working relationship going forward, where we will be sharing tips on working with non-native speakers.

  • 14. Plan and deliver effective learning programmes for diverse groups or individuals in a safe and inclusive environment.

    We emphasised to students at the start of the year that there were no assumptions about what they knew, and this helped them to go back to the basics of understanding what different parts of speech we have and how they fit together. The students in the literacy class in particular have been so supportive of one another, as they recognise that this is a journey they must all make, even though they have different starting points.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Additional Information and resources

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Walter, K., Dockrell, J., Connelly, V. (2021) A sentence-combining intervention for struggling writers: response to intervention Available at: (Accessed 12th December 2021).

7b. Darlington College

Development of IT skills within the ESOL classroom

Darlington College

This project centred on developing IT skills among low-level ESOL students enabling them to access aspects of IT to enhance their learning.

Full time ESOL students were taught IT skills which they cascaded to other ESOL students. We intended to build a ‘community of practice’ where students could actively participate, learning from and supporting each other’s development (Vygotsky,1978; Lave and Wenger, 1991).

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Embedding IT skills in the ESOL classroom is very beneficial (One Stop English, date unknown; ETF, 2021). Lack of IT knowledge and skills presents barriers for many of our ESOL students. Lockdown further exposed the lack of IT skills with ESOL students unable to access online learning, resulting in several students being unable to complete their courses, hindering their progression in English. Additionally, some students struggled to understand and follow tutor instructions. To support our students, we developed a project where full-time ESOL students passed on their IT skills to those in the adult pre-entry and entry one classes.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place at Darlington College, a medium sized general further education college in the North East of England. The college provides a wide range of courses and has a thriving ESOL Department with four permanent and three temporary staff. The classes range from part-time pre-entry to Level 2 (English and maths) classes, as well as a full-time programme for the 16-18-year-olds.

We worked with two groups of students: full-time 16-18 and pre-entry and Level 1 ESOL.


We adopted an action planning process, involving the following stages:

Planning Stage:

  • After initial team meetings at the beginning of the project, we recognised full-time ESOL students lacked confidence in their IT and communication skills and so we needed to build up their skills and confidence.
  • Students were invited to be part of the project and informed what it would involve. Although initially apprehensive, they were reassured they would be supported, guided and given time to prepare by the IT tutor.
  • We discussed and agreed topics they would prepare and how they could present them to their peers. The following topics were chosen: turning the computer on and off, accessing Google Chat and using Google Meet. Students would present using PowerPoint.

How the planning was put into practice:

  • A chronological order of lessons was decided by the students.
  • The project lead liaised with the IT tutor ensuring time was secured for the delivery of the lessons.
  • Once they were prepared and confident, full-time students delivered to the pre-entry class with the support of the IT tutor.


  • Both full-time and pre-entry students were given reflection activities (Exit Tickets) to complete. These were adapted to the level of the students to gain insights into the effectiveness of the presentations.
  • The tutors met to ascertain what went well and what could be improved going forward. The feedback was mainly positive; however, it was felt the full-time students should be better prepared for the next round. They needed to be confident about the topic, prepare more informative slides and avoid simply reading from them to enable them to connect more effectively with the group being taught.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

By the end of the sessions, the pre-entry students could turn a Chromebook off and on. They could also access Google chat which greatly increased their confidence.

The full-time students gained confidence in their ability to communicate as well as improving their IT skills. The experience has ensured their learning experiences have been broadened, made more interesting and engaging and relevant to the ‘real’ world. CN for example, told me he felt “delighted” (his favourite adjective!) after his teaching experience. He told me it had helped his pronunciation (an area he needed to develop).

Furthermore, the skill of ‘risk-taking’ was evident and students could see that mistakes are to learn from. Self-management was also developed, students were empowered and encouraged to use their initiative and autonomy. AH felt very uneasy during the presentation because he had not prepared well. He recognised that but kept going. He completed the lesson but felt he could do better and asked if he could take another in the future so he could improve.

In addition, communication skills were developed resulting in increased confidence when speaking to others, particularly to those they did not know. This is a life skill that will help students in their future job search or progression to higher levels of study. For example, MG stated he was very nervous and found it difficult but has since presented in other classes and said he felt much better.

The pre-entry students benefited from being taught by students who could empathise with exit ticket example with smiley facestheir difficulty in understanding the English language. In addition, they learned skills which will enable them to access learning online. See exit ticket example to the right.

They also were exposed to technology which will be built on to support them in learning English through different channels. This will lead to improvements in confidence which will empower students to integrate more into society.

The ESOL team also benefitted, and learned from, a student-led approach. For some this was a new approach and ‘letting go’ was a concept not always easy to adopt. Having seen the benefits, it is hoped this will become a consistent approach within the ESOL classroom. For example, two members of the team stated they thought the project was a new and exciting idea, whilst one teacher, whose class was taught by the 16-19 years old, stated her students really enjoyed the sessions and learned some basic IT skills following the experience and she is keen to repeat the activity. In addition, it is hoped the collaboration across the team will also be embedded into the wider curriculum.

On my part, I learned to cascade knowledge gained from teaching an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in a creative manner. This involved sharing good practice around skills development as opposed to just supporting language development.
There was a great deal of emphasis on collaboration within this project. This came to fruition via students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and languages, working together. Tutors also collaborated much more than previously.

Organisational Development

The project created an opportunity for staff from different curriculum areas to meet, share ideas and teaching and learning and assessment approaches. In the busy world of FE, these opportunities do not occur as frequently as we would like. It was, therefore, fortuitous to have the privilege to work so closely with colleagues. Working on the project additionally helped to raise the profile of the ESOL department. For example, more regular and productive meetings with managers, more colleagues involved and more recently, the introduction of peer teaching into maths sessions.

Attending the Tees Valley English and Maths conference gave us the opportunity to share our work with other centres in the area. The chair of this meeting said she would share all I had imparted in a document which would be cascaded to all participants. This raised the profile of the project and our team whilst enabling us to get useful feedback from other ESOL practitioners. In addition, the project was shared at the Bell Foundation meeting where it was met with enthusiasm and interest.

Learning from this project

What went well:

All those involved found the project to be both a rewarding and positive experience. After some initial trepidation, people readily joined in and did their very best to ensure the project was a success. Feedback was extremely positive and the majority of those involved would like the activities to continue. One of the most pleasing aspects is seeing students grow in confidence and begin to take responsibility for their own learning. This student-led approach to teaching and learning has informed the ESOL team and demonstrated an approach that can be deployed elsewhere in the college. For example, this practice is currently being used within maths sessions. CN and MA (the higher-level maths students) are teaching the Entry 2/3 group for the last two session of the academic year. Because of their previous experience, they “jumped” at the opportunity and according to their IT teacher, are developing some wonderful resources.

Even better if:

The full-time students had been better prepared for their lessons. Several of them were a little shocked at the reality of teaching and one even asked if he could do it again because he felt he did not deliver well which shows his commitment to the project.

The tutors were also taken by surprise, and we all agreed that we had overestimated the ability and confidence of the students. Based on this, more support was given to ensure the students were better prepared.

The full-time students need to practise more, ensuring they know the topic well prior to delivering topics. They also need to understand the importance of communicating clearly and ensuring their presentations are ‘lessons’ and not simple modes of displaying a collection of information.

All colleagues need to be on board. One was reluctant from the outset. This colleague teaches the higher groups so did not participate in the project although she was party to all the meetings and many of the discussions surrounding it. Without doubt she was very interested in knowing how the project progressed and expressed her pleasure at its success.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students.

    The approaches used were new to many of the team who initially struggled with students having control of the learning. Through meeting regularly, gathering feedback from students, and discussing progress with them, we were able to constructively and honestly reflect on what worked best in our teaching and support each other to make improvements. Regular reflection enabled us to appreciate the benefits of the approach used, enhancing our teaching practice whilst additionally encouraging effective relationships with each other and our students.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and students

    The project’s success hinged on effective collaboration on many different levels. Initially, full-time students and teachers worked together to decide on topic delivery, needing to build up trust and confidence in each other. In classroom teaching sessions students increasingly relied on each other to help with communication and the execution of practical activities. Collaboration was further needed to provide honest feedback on activities so their usefulness could be effectively assessed and any improvements made.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project developed IT skills for ESOL students who struggled with the concept. Being taught by other ESOL students helped to lessen language barriers enabling them to express their difficulties more readily. Those teaching the sessions were able to recognise difficulties other students had in using IT and, with the teacher’s help, support them appropriately to understand and use IT more effectively.

    As a result of the project, most students have grown in confidence in using IT. In addition, the project helped teachers better appreciate students’ difficulties and find more effective means of working to enable them to meet challenges and overcome barriers to learning.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Feedback Forms

Appendix 4: Student Prepared Teaching Materials

Appendix 5: Students working in classrooms

Appendix 6: Examples of Students’ Work


Education Training Foundation (2021) Effective digital skills teaching in the context of digital exclusion: ESOL and non- formal learning, available on: Essential Digital Skills CPD programme – The Education and Training Foundation (

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University

One Stop English (date unknown) ESOL Support: IT in ESOL, available on:, Date accessed: 11.02.2022

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

6a: Burton and South Derbyshire College

Exploring digital approaches to reading
and writing

Burton and South Derbyshire College

This project aimed to investigate the validity of new digital approaches deployed in the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), focusing on enhancing digital reading and writing development.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


This research sought to determine the validity, relevance and impact of digital approaches which strive to improve and develop reading engagement and writing for learners within vocational areas. Learner observation indicated that awareness of valuable digital resources such as the e-textbooks could be pivotal to improving learners’ attainment and understanding, as well as enabling greater digital access to our LRC collections and services. Using collaborative digital writing platforms to promote learner confidence in writing was another area of exploration, with the aim to upskill learners’ digital capabilities further and develop confident understanding and use of digital technology for improving levels of literacy.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The research engaged participants from different departments across our FE College. The first approach was developing reading skills and access to our digital textbooks with a Level 2 Health and Social Care group. Secondly, we explored the improvement of writing using digital approaches with an Entry Level ESOL group and, finally, we worked with vocational learners from across the college to develop their digital reading skills.


The project leader, in collaboration with the Health and Social Care department, identified a suitable group for the study. The Level 2 Health and Social Care group were selected as their tutor recognised a clear need for the learners to become more familiar with their online textbook to increase their awareness of researching online and improve their digital reading habits. A short survey with the learners was conducted to ascertain their current reading habits and approaches to reading as well as exploring their thoughts about reading and wellbeing themes (Appendix 3a). Sessions on reading and accessing digital textbooks were delivered with the group and data was obtained through surveys to capture their thoughts on this initiative.

As part of the College’s Digital Wellness week, the Health and Social Care group also participated in the new Essential Digital Skills programme, which was supported by LRC staff. The new online digital course included content that required significant online reading to be conducted before assessment. Learners were observed and interviewed as they participated in the course.

Module data generated from the programme was gathered to reflect on the pace of reading, specifically if the design of the content was accessible and how the course impacted on teaching, learning and assessment practices and how digital access could be improved.

We also ran a ‘writing camp’ with an Entry Level ESOL group who worked collaboratively (supported by LRC staff and an external organisation Higher Horizons) to write a novel within one week using an online programme. Higher Horizons are an organisation enabling engagement with Higher Education through outreach work. The one-week camp involved the learners planning a novel collaboratively and writing using a digital programme through Google docs, especially adapted so writers could write, edit and collaborate in different chapters to collectively author the novel ‘The Unwelcome Newcomers’ (Cooks, 2022).

Case studies and semi-structured interviews were used to capture learners’ feedback, as well as observation of participants composing and creating the novel. Discussion with tutors, support staff and learners ascertained whether the participants’ confidence levels had improved and provided an opportunity to investigate whether the structure of the week had engaged their interest and encouraged them to develop their writing skills.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The focus on digital reading highlighted the importance of building and maintaining personal reading habits that can be a crucial aspect of success for learners. In the session, the inclusive features of ebooks were explored (Appendix 3b), such as highlighting, audio options and notetaking facilities, allowing learners to extrapolate and engage with text whilst simultaneously utilising digital literacies.

Giving learners directed instructions (Appendix 3c) allowed them to explore the features of these digital texts and they commented upon the usefulness of formulating questions prior to reading the extracts to master their understanding. The intervention clearly indicated that there was scope to develop the reading extracts and perhaps incorporate further sessions with elements of study skills e.g., advanced notetaking techniques whilst reading the text.

Data analysis from the Essential Digital Skills programme (Appendix 3d) indicates interesting results about the demands of reading online. Learners were scanning the information rather than employing detailed reading strategies and engaged more with the interactive elements, such as quizzes, which demonstrates that further integration of these assessment techniques would potentially enhance engagement. Reducing the text for each module and improving the layout of the information would assist with engagement and accessibility (Appendix 3e).

Developing Entry Level ESOL learners’ writing skills using a digital approach demonstrated that the initiative had a positive impact on the selected learners’ writing skills. Learners commented that they found the first day of planning difficult. Interestingly, no digital applications were used at this stage to help them formulate the plot. Once they were writing in the LRC, using computers and the Google docs layout provided more comfort; they mentioned the security of typing and access to tools such as the spellchecker to improve their writing. The digital approach and the interface of the document allowed them to design the text with ease, and, more importantly, it may demonstrate that the thinking process is occurring more naturally through digital practice. The process of drafting, improving, and checking revealed that the digital approach provided learners with the confidence to view themselves seriously as writers.

Organisational Development

More effective communication and working practices have emerged as a result of the supportive collaboration between curriculum and support staff. One tutor commented that several of the learners are now more confident using narrative tenses and are happier to share written stories.

The ESOL tutors also commented on and recognised the positive effect on their learners’ autonomy as a result of working with wider college teams and spaces. The recognition that others in the organisation can support the learner journey gives both learners and teaching staff an enriching dimension and allows learners to feel they are part of a wider learning community. Following the relinquishing of Covid restrictions, learners felt energised using the LRC and breaking away from classrooms. The presence of both groups increased in the LRC, especially during non-timetable periods (breaks and lunchtime) and they were more likely to come and ask for assistance as they became familiar with LRC staff.

Learning from this project

The research has provided insights into the study skills needs of learners; their responses showed that they needed support in being more motivated, developing concentration and remembering. These observations suggest that these topics should become the foundation of future study skills and reading sessions. Many respondents perceived reading as unimportant and the preferred activity was using their phones, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity to develop new sessions to explore the rapidly transforming models of accessing reading materials.

Learner access to relevant digital resources and textbooks has increased and this has had a positive impact on learner achievement through increased usage and assimilation within assignment work, with learners using the interactive tools to highlight, copy and search. Learners commented that using ebooks was:

Very very useful, [a] great aspect on my course.
… really good. I really enjoy my time as it is easy to understand.

These techniques can be further developed with the focus on more active methods such as making notes, taking the key ideas to paraphrase and writing summaries of chapters. We hope that this will lead to learners further developing the skills of analysing and critiquing what they read.

Embedding digital information skills into the curriculum means that LRC staff have upskilled their digital capabilities to deliver new methods of information literacy. This has also highlighted the need to develop a better technology-rich environment with greater mobile devices to enable collaboration.

Some writers found writing fiction challenging as they were used to producing transactional writing as the norm. The majority enjoyed the freedom of this approach and excelled in the chance to explore and apply their creative talents to produce a novel in less than a week and discover the merits of self-publishing (Appendix 3f).

The writing camp showcased the affordances offered by technology to support writing. The framework of the programme nestled within the Google documents allowed the novelists to work through and collaborate on multiple chapters, adding characters, scenes and plot twists with ease. Learners remarked that they preferred the digital approach as they had access to the editing tools to refine their words, improving grammar and spelling as they wrote.
The adoption of digital tools and techniques offers a unique opportunity to extend the reading and writing skills of learners.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technologies and support learners in their use of new technologies

    Our project had the aim and focus of engaging learners as active users of digital technologies to further enhance their reading and writing skills. The technologies such as e-books, Google docs and a bespoke platform were utilised to engage learners at scale to achieve their aims. Through research, we investigated learners’ engagement with these technologies and how they allowed learners agency to become confident users.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others

    The project has supported important strategic developments. One element of the College Skills Promise is to develop learners as Digital Experts. Having knowledge of, and skills in, the latest digital technologies will set learners up for their career in the 21st century workforce. In recognition of this Burton and South Derbyshire College (BSDC) has developed an Essential Digital Skills programme which the LRC team have supported by previewing and checking the content. During the college-wide Digital Wellness week LRC staff supported learners to enrol and participate in the course. Reflecting upon learner engagement will further enhance the quality of the resource as well as collaborating with other colleges who have also started to use the course to develop their learners’ digital skills.