miércoles, 12 de junio de 2019

For Whom is The Teaching of Grammar Still a Security Blanket?

                                        By María de la Lama


Frequently, in TEFL “grammar” equals “ syntax”. Thus, for many English teachers grammar is the teaching of how to build structures in order to  develop in students, in a later stage, the   ability to  transform them when communicating.   But the linguistic concept of grammar "as the total knowledge of a language" offers a much broader understanding of this term. Therefore, an effective teaching of grammar should allow students not only to form structures, but also to know how to use them in a meaningful and appropriate way.
The teaching of the Simple Past tense will exemplify this point . On the one hand, when the term grammar is limited to syntax, the methodology will emphasize more the use of the auxiliary "did" and the transformations that irregular verbs undergo in this tense. On the other hand, a broader conception of the term will motivate the teacher to teach other very important aspects of the mentioned structure, such as the pronunciation of regular verbs and, what is more important, the communicative functions of the tense.
Why is it then that this narrow perception of the term "grammar" is still rooted in our daily teaching? Maybe because the focus on teaching structures still works as a security blanket for teachers. Let’s see some of the reasons why we are fond of teaching structures:


      There is a belief that if students analyze the language they will learn it more effectively. However, the main tenets of the Communicative approach prioritize language use over rules of usage.
      The teaching of grammar (grammar= syntax) demands the use of schemas, charts or written exercises,  activities that many teachers are keen on doing in class.
      Structures are always testable. In fact, grammar quizzes  are easy to prepare and to grade.
      This narrow conception of grammar gives teachers a false control of the lesson performance. After all, teachers always have  the correct  answer!
      Teachers seem to perpetuate the way they learned a foreign language when they teach. There has been a great emphasis on teaching language rules during the last decades that’s way following the Communicative approach does not seem to be an easy task.
      An overemphasis on structure formation may give students the idea that forming structures is enough to communicate in a foreign language without focusing on other important aspects such as pronunciation, vocabulary and use.


A good tip for preparing our grammar lessons bearing in mind that “grammar” involves much more than syntax, is to identify the challenging aspect of a given structure for our students. In some cases, the pronunciation of the structure, and not its form, will pose a challenge for adult students, such as the pronunciation of the phonemes /s/ or /z/ in the formation of plural nouns. In other structures, the challenging point will come from the meaning of the structures. The use of the possessive illustrates this point as in the phrase “a month’s holiday”.  

Challenging points can arise from other aspects rather than the form of the structure. They may come from the phonological component of the structure, from the correct understanding of its meaning or from its use. Overemphasizing the teaching of the form may hinder the students’ communicative competence.


NOW YOUR TURN:

Why doesn’t our teaching of grammar move towards more communicative ways? Is the teaching of grammar our security blanket in class?
  

BIODATA:
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.


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miércoles, 5 de junio de 2019

Student’s Notebook Reflects Classwork, Right? WRONG

                                                                                              By Enrique Rojas R.
The                                                            
                   
            For many parents of school children the students’ notebooks reflect the work they have done in class in a particular subject. Even some teachers equate a robust notepad with hearty work by instructors and students during the school year and that means, according to them, a successful and productive labor for all involved. But we deem that as an absolute falsehood which is particularly untrue in the case of the English course.

         Colombian professor Luis Hernando Mutis Ibarra had told us: “…the notebook is a powerful educational tool: there is evidence of what the student can do of what he is learning and how he learns it. The notebook is a mirror of the work that the educator does in the classroom.” So he takes the notebook as proof of the work done in class, which is what many parents do. That leads us to believe that those parents do not trust their children’s teachers and they need to invigilate what they do. Not a very healthy attitude.

         Professor Mutis ratifies this when he says: “On the one hand it is an instrument of evidence of educational work, in which the majority of parents, authorities and managers supervise the work of teachers, who are often guided by the culture of the hefty volume, that is, the larger ‘The more effective,’ or the more complete the notebook is and the more orderly it is, the more the teacher will have taught.

          In the communicative approach, that in the English teaching world we still follow today, the same importance is given to oral skills as to written ones. Although, remember that the emphasis is placed on communicating. And it is undeniable that man’s main means of communication is the oral language and not the written one.
       
  Now there is general agreement among linguists that the way to best learn a foreign language is by communicating in it, that is, transmitting ideas, desires, requests, opinions, news, feelings, etc. The way people normally do it, by talking to each other. So much so that now “Teacher Talking Time is minimized to facilitate more “Student Talking Time.” So the idea of a teacher writing on the board for the students to copy, or never ending dictation or other ways of fattening students’ notebooks are considered obsolete in the best of cases. Now students should talk.

         And even then it doesn’t seem enough. Professor Martha Bartoli Rigol, of Universidad de Barcelona, warns us: “In the communicative approach, written language is still used as a support in the teaching of oral language and pronunciation.” Just remember that when a new word appears in the classroom, the first thing the teacher does is write it on the board. Consequently, students immediately read it and remember it with the sounds they know, those of Spanish. No wonder learners tend not to pronounce well and remember more the words as they are written rather than uttered.

         So, fat notebooks that nobody is going to read do not either evidence communication or good language work. In a language lab students could exchange messages. That would be chatting, something that kids love to do and real communication practice. If a teacher doesn’t have access to those facilities he could device a scheme for interchanging handwritten notes, legalizing and sublimating something that kids sometimes do surreptitiously. And you can be sure they will be communicating in the target language!

Now is your turn

Are notebooks or workbooks the most important part of your English class?


References:
Bartoli, M. (2005) La pronunciación en la clase de lenguas extranjeras. PHONICA, 1). [Applied Phonetics Laboratory, Universitat de Barcelona]
Mutis Ibarra, L.  Las Tareas y Los Usos Del Cuaderno. Retrieved from: https://es.scribd.com/doc/19480003/Las-Tareas-y-Los-Usos-Del-Cuaderno-doc

BIODATA
Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; a MA in Linguistics from Universidad Iberoamericana del Atlántico, Spain; a MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 20 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He has been a speaker in every Congress of English for Special Purposes organized by Centro de Idiomas de la U.P. He is also a member of its Research Area



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miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2019

Online Courses: Are we Doing Them Right?

                                                              By Zarela Cruz                                                                                                             


        When it comes to learning online, teachers and prospective students have their own expectations. However, sometimes appearances are deceiving; there is the misbelief that these kinds of courses are quite simple and they demand much less effort than face-to-face ones, either for instructors or students. 

        There are different kinds of online courses: synchronous and asynchronous. In the former, there is a tutor and a group of students who engage in learning at the same time. The teacher accompanies you all along the course and monitors your progress. In the latter, you learn at your own pace, free from the simultaneous occurrence of a classroom lecture. These are self-study courses that have graded activities or a multiple-choice test at the end of each module; some also have videoconferences and a weekly session to clarify doubts.


        The questions listed below are important when it comes to planning an online course:

  1. How is it going to be structured?
  2. How will students interact in your online course? Is it going to have in-person components or are they going to be self-study courses?
  3. Will students need to attend classes at specific times?
  4. Will there be some sort of interaction among students?
  5. What will the typical weekly workload be?
  6. How many weeks will it last?
  7. What should students know before enrolling in this online course?

       
By keeping these aspects in mind, we will know for sure the chances of success they have and the adjustments that need to be done before launching them.




NOW IT IS YOUR TURN! WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Have you ever taken an online course?
What was it like?
Did it work as expected?
What would you change next time?



Biodata
Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in the Teaching of English and Spanish. She has also completed some online certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses. She has taught different courses, programs and levels and has been a teacher trainer, a lecturer and online instructor for more than 25 years. She has just finished her master’s studies in Translation. This article aims to reflect on this important current topic,



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martes, 21 de mayo de 2019

Word Lists: do They Help Learners be Fluent in a Language?



By Mayra Yaranga Hernández

We will probably remember our early English lessons. Especially at the beginning, one part of the lesson was when the teacher would pick up flashcards or write words on the board, drill them and then provide/elicit a translation for them. This would go on for a few words, and the lesson’s lexical content had been covered. Eventually, we would get tested on either the words themselves or their translations –if we remembered them, we were safe. When we are young language learners, this usually works, basically because traditional teaching focuses on words and, at best, sentences. Also, because the words being learnt belong to the ‘here and now’, as abstract processing is still not a part of pupils’ development. And finally, because these words have very clear semantic limits, so it is easy to categorise them in groups like ‘fruit’, ‘vegetables’ or ‘feelings’.

The problem begins when working with higher levels and/or older students. Is it enough to just provide a list of words to memorise every class and then hope that the learners will have incorporated them all into their repertoire? I would like to claim that this is just not enough, and may be one of the features of traditional teaching: rote learning. Why do we need to go beyond word lists in our teaching? Here I will give two reasons:
        The words are not necessarily set in context. By context, we mean a more or less natural linguistic setting –-an audio recording or a written text— where learners can see the word being used naturally. This will help them to, first, realise that the word is useful, and second, get some help to experiment with it safely.
        The words are usually given in isolation. That is, we do not encourage our learners to see the word patterns (“collocations”) they occur in. What is the point in learning the word ‘fun’ if we do not show that it appears in phrases such as She’s fun to be with or It was such fun!? This is why we should check how the word combines with other words in order to make meaningful chunks.

What is outlined above does not only apply to general English, but also areas where apparently students are better at coping: ESP and international exam preparation. One famous example of project work in ESP consists of building a glossary of specialised terms in the L1 and L2. This is said to help students remember the specialised terms but here, if no context or collocations are given, students will be deprived of the best tool they have to internalise the vocabulary: the way in which the word is used. Isn’t it what they want to learn?

This includes collocation, appropriacy (is the word used among professionals, with the general public?), frequency, and even the shades of meaning in related words (What is the difference between lawyer, solicitor, attorney and barrister, when all mean abogado in Spanish?) A similar situation happens with the publications and websites offering ‘500 useful words for [Insert exam name]’. A catchy title, indeed, but with little pedagogical value for the same reasons mentioned above. Learning those 500 words does not guarantee a half-decent essay, let alone impressive speaking skills.
         
All in all, we should never forget that vocabulary is not a matter of memorising words like parrots. It involves making associations, discriminating and seeing words within chunks of language for easier use.

Now, it’s YOUR turn!
Do you use vocabulary lists in class? What advantages and drawbacks do you find when using them?


Biodata
Mayra Yaranga (1985) Doctor in Education (UNIFÉ); Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London) revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education - UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada - IPNM. Currently she is Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ.


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miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2019

Misbeliefs in Education: Could we Ever Defeat Them?


By Flor de María Vila


         
       Some pedagogical practices considered traditional or mistaken tend to keep alive in spite of advances and new knowledge. 


Many factors could be identified to explain this situation. Among them, we could mention teachers’ conceptions and beliefs regarding the teaching-learning process, conceptions and beliefs that teachers already have, based on their own experiences (Pozo et al., 2006), and that will guide teachers in the definition of the activities they will apply in their classes, whether they are planned or not. 

        Beliefs, true or false ones have an affective, evaluative and episodic nature that would be working as a filter, through which all new phenomena are interpreted, even when knowledge and beliefs are interrelated (Pajares, 1992).

Beliefs are built at an early age and tend to perpetuate even when reasoning, time, school or experience produce conflict. Furthermore, Pajares (1992) pointed out that the older the belief is, the harder it is to change it; something that does not happen with recent beliefs, as they are more vulnerable to changes. This explains why adults rarely modify their beliefs; grownups tend to maintain them even if they are based on incomplete or incorrect knowledge. For this reason, teachers with many years in teaching show difficulty in changing schemes and in adapting themselves to new trends.

         In addition, we could consider as another factor the professional preparation that teachers may have received. In this professionalization period, teachers may have acquired or instituted certain knowledge that could steer or influence their pedagogical practices. Early experiences and prior knowledge strongly rooted in teachers could cause interference in the acquisition of new perspectives and knowledge of the process of teaching and learning. For this reason, although teachers may hold higher college studies or may have received refresher training on new knowledge, it is not reflected in their performance in the classroom and, on the contrary, they continue applying a traditional teaching method.  

           In any case, we still meet misbeliefs such as the ones that are practised with the precept that their extensive or exclusive use will guarantee students’ success in learning a language. We still find cases in which the emphasis on these practices is such that considering paying more attention to other sources of knowledge is forgotten even if doing so will entail a more comprehensive approach for teaching.

          Some of these misbeliefs are closely related to concentrating on providing a number of grammatical rules or long lists of vocabulary as well as offering a bunch of materials such as books, copies of exercises, links and so on. Another common one is that in which the solely use of a platform is synonym of use of technology in its most advanced version. In this new series we are launching, our team of researchers will share some insights about these misbeliefs.

Do you know any other beliefs that bound our teaching in a certain way?
What could we do in those cases?
**

Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers' Beliefs and Educational Research: Cleaning up a Messy Construct. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 62, No. 3, pp. 307-332.
Pozo, J., Sheur, N., Pérez, M., Mateos, M., Martin, E., De la Cruz, M., (2006) Nuevas formas de pensar la enseñanza y el aprendizaje. Las concepciones de profesores y alumnos. España, Grao.

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA


M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS)

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viernes, 10 de mayo de 2019

Do we teach vocabulary or do we enable our students to acquire new words independently?


            By María de la Lama



During English courses, students want to incorporate new words into their "English" in order to speak fluently. In fact, the construction of vocabulary is a skill that students must develop in order to enrich their repertoire of vocabulary for themselves.

Here are some tips you can provide your students:

Avoid having your students memorize vocabulary lists. Instead, it is more productive to learn words in phrases. Therefore, learning “collocations” is more effective than learning an isolated word. For example, when they learn the word “steak”, students can at the same time memorize words that usually go with “steak”: well done, medium or rare. Another example is the noun "story" where a student can immediately learn the collocation "tell a story".

Show students that learning new words that belong to the same semantic category is not only easier, but easier to remember. For example: when they learn the cooking verb "bake", students can learn another two or three cooking verbs such as steam, fry, boil,  etc.

Teach students to find relationships between words and to represent that relationship. For example, when teaching the adjectives "cold" and "freezing" instead of giving students a wordy explanation, write this on the board:

 Cold +
Freezing ++


The use of the plus symbol easily  transmits the difference in meaning between these two words.

But how do teachers check their students’ comprehension of new words without translating them into their native language?

To begin with, we must avoid our tendency to ask "empty questions" such as: do you understand the meaning of this word? or do you have any questions? 

Instead of asking this kind of questions, guide your students to process the meaning of a new word, BUT to do this, teachers need to be good at asking effective questions. Consider the following example: our students face the word "shy" for the first time and the teacher gives them an explanation of its meaning in English. But how do we know that the students understood the meaning?

a)   By giving synonyms or antonyms of the word “shy”?

b)   By eliciting examples of people who are “shy”

Even though the two options can be helpful, they are not as  effective as the appropriate “guiding questions” formulated by the teacher. Look at the following examples of guiding questions for the understanding of the word “shy”:

a)   Do shy people enjoy meeting strangers?

b)   Is it easy for shy people to make friends during a trip?

Let’s consider another example: Mary wishes she were in Brazil.

Getting the meaning of this sentence is more difficult because of the use of “wish + subjunctive”. Thus the following guiding questions would come handy:


a)   Is she in Brazil now?
b)   Does she want to be in Brazil?

Always remember that our memory works better when we are involved in the process of working out the meaning of a new word.





BIODATA:

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.

lunes, 29 de abril de 2019

Reading in English and Spanish: two sides of the same coin?


By Flor de María Vila A.

One of the advantages of living the Fourth Industrial Revolution (1) is that our access to knowledge is unlimited. Any person with access to the internet can obtain information about anything in less than a minute. This chance takes us to the inescapable question: How much of what we read, we really understand? Are we, teachers, helping our students to go beyond identifying specific information, for instance? Are we teaching how to read?


Some educators may say that the answers to these questions depend on different factors: the age of our students, the place where we are teaching, and the purpose of the course we are giving among others. It is true that it not the same to teach small kids as to teach teenagers, young adults or adults. Their cognitive development and their motivation, for instance, are different.  It is not the same to teach in a school as to teach in a private language institution. In a school, all courses may be part of a cross-curricular approach whereas, in a private venue, the course stands by itself. When teaching English, we may be teaching it to people who just want to learn the language or to others that study it to sit an international exam, for example.

In any case, our main objective is to help students achieve theirs and to do so they must receive a lot of input as Krashen (2) states. One of the ways is through reading. Reading is an important source of a number of samples of what good language is as well as of the knowledge required for different purposes. We need to point out this to our pupils even if we think that it is obvious. In addition, we could show them how the language written in the texts display how language is constructed as well as how the ideas are presented by native speakers. If we help them make a deep analysis of the passages, we will aid them to find a wonderful spring to which they can always return over and over to learn from it.

Needless to say, we have to help them go beyond the well-known and useful strategies used before, during and after reading. We also have to show them how to use the metacognition while reading in order to monitor their understanding, for example.
You may want to take a look at the following articles to review some of the strategies and other important aspects of the reading process.



It is valid to say that there are people who are motivated, will read and find the information they need. Others are accustomed to finding the answer to a specific question and sometimes used to building knowledge with pieces of information as if they were making a kind of "patching reading".  The problem with that practice is that it doesn’t help much to develop critical reasoning. It is as if some are finding the pill for the pain but not curing the illness. In our case, students learn to answer questions for a text, but not necessarily know how to read. This may be observed in exams that require to answer questions which evaluate different levels of comprehension.

Thus, in addition to asking for information that requires literal or inferential comprehension, why don´t we ask questions that require the reader to make a personal response to a character or situation in the story or to the author’s purpose? With this, we will be helping students to develop their appreciative comprehension. We can always pose questions the request our pupils to make a judgment about the author’s use of language, style of writing, execution of the text, or the author’s ideas in the text. This will enable them to reach a critique comprehension of what they are reading. If we want to help our students develop an evaluative comprehension, we will need to propose questions that help them make a judgment about an aspect of the story such as a character’s actions and demonstrate or support that judgment.


Even though, it is clear that some students engage in reading in order to gain specific information and that is enough for them, our job is to enable them to go beyond and reach little by little different levels of comprehension. This will inevitably help them achieve their goals and at the same time show them the entrance of a world of wisdom and culture.

Now it´s your turn:
What else can we teach about reading?
Is it easy to teach how to read? Why? Why not?


(2)    Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1988.
(3)    Estrategias de comprensión lectora: enseñanza y evaluación en educación primaria


BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Teacher trainer, Pedagogic Consultant and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and relationship manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS)