miércoles, 18 de julio de 2018

Is Innovation Really Welcomed in Education?



By Enrique Rojas R.

                                   
         With the advent of the Communicative Approach in the English class  the then interminable practice of drills and choral repetition of the Audio Lingual method were stashed away by language teachers who adopted other didactical strategies such as pair-work, trios and group work; teacher talking time was denounced and trimmed off, and role-plays were put to frequent use. In the beginning even the teaching of grammar was disparaged and later minimized.

         That is teachers became convinced of the benefits of such methods since they were convinced of their usefulness. But nobody petered out a moment to think how the learners were receiving those changes. It was just assumed that, since it was for their own good, they would be happy with it all.

Who has the upper hand in methodology?

         The truth is that even today, after so many years, some students, and particularly adult ones, seriously dislike some aspects of those procedures. For example, we teachers discern that it is convenient to vary the interaction patterns and, for that matter, we change from duos to trios, to groups of four and so on. And this frequently implies that the students have to change seats. Do the students like this dancing of chairs? True, perhaps kids even love it, but older learners not so much and when they are the ones who have to stand up and move to another chair on many occasions you can see them frown. It is also not rare that they feel uncomfortable to be forced to participate in role-plays, some hate to sing and there are those who think that the so called “Didactical games” are just a waste of time or, worse yet, a way for teachers to just kill time.

         If you call on the students to talk to their peers from the front of the class or to write something on the board, perhaps the answer to an exercise, and that way you ensure that they stay alert and awake after a long day of work, several pupils may think that you’re treating them “like children” and resent it. Instructors also try that, as much as possible, the verbal interchanges, to be meaningful and communicative evolve about their existence and reality, but have to be extremely careful not to poke into their lives or personal businesses.

         Teachers may argue that it is they who know what should be done and not the students, but this argument turns out to be feeble. It’s been several years since educational institutions adopted the marketing principle that the client is always right and now that schools of all sorts are deemed as business centers, the clients/students can decide which teachers should be given classes and which not and, therefore, the methods they want used in class.


Is innovation welcomed?
         Most educational institutions pay lip service to innovation. But do the conditions exist for the teachers to be innovative? For instance, the textbooks should be just instruments in the hands of teachers. They as educators are the ones who are supposed to be the best for their students. But there are always those learners who demand that every single line of the book be covered in class. In a group there’s bound to be one or two conservative individuals who are appalled by modifications or reforms. In a small group one person can make a big difference in the teacher’s survey. Is the teacher likely to try new things when they know it may mean not to be given classes the following month? In fact, we’ve been told by several teachers: “I try to conform and go with the group of instructors as much as possible and not stand out in any way.” I cannot say I blame them, but perhaps we should all give a second thought to this complex problem.

NOW IS YOUR TURN:

Is innovation needed in education?  Or maybe
It is better to leave things the way they are, they have worked so far…
Would you dare to be an innovator? Is it worth it?

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
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; an 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 19 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. 

miércoles, 11 de julio de 2018

Studying English Online or Face-to-Face? Two Sides of a Coin


                                                                                                      By Zarela Cruz


Currently there is a wide range of options available when it comes to studying languages. Some websites have a very well structured marketing; others are on the web, waiting for a chance to catch the learner’s eye offering them a trial session, course, or update.  The question your students may ask you is: when it comes to languages, which is better: to study English online or to register in an institution to have fixed-schedule classes?

Let’s start by listing some of the alleged advantages of studying a language online:
  • It saves money.
  • The learners study when they feel like doing it.
  • They can have access to class from their own phone.
  • Weekly tasks can be done at any time during the week.


But, can we call them advantages? To start with:  Do they save money because they have a sort of token to be used all year long? It may end up like registering to the gym for a year and attending sessions just one or two months! What is the gain, then?

It is true that studying when they are in the mood is more productive, but, what happens if they are never in the mood? They will not take any lessons, will they?

Everyone has a smartphone, but how smart is it to study using one’s phone? Unless the sessions are micro sessions and/or one has permanent Wi-Fi access, it will not be that cheap in the end.

Let’s talk about weekly assignments now: Are they going to be done in the last minute? What is the aim of doing homework then? (See https://languageteachingblogger.blogspot.com/2018/05/is-doing-homework-must.html)

As teachers with extensive experience in the teaching field, we are definitely in favour of students attending classes regularly, not only because “Practice makes perfect,” but also because the learning environment promotes participation, working in pairs or groups. Interaction in class has obvious benefits:

*     
  • Make a study time part of one’s routine.
  • Take notes depending on one’s own learning style.
  • Find at least one learning partner.
  • Make sure they track their progress.


When they have fixed-scheduled-classes, they develop self-discipline and they are focused on learning.

On the other hand, everyone wants to be understood and in class, their teacher will be eager to help them fix mistakes that can be fossilized if repeated over and over.

When working with a classmate, benefits are multiple: not only they may find interest and academic background in common, but they can socialize in a real learning environment.

What is not easy to admit for some people is that not everyone is a natural born self-learner. Some guidance is needed and functional language requires a real interaction environment.

To make the right choice, students should set their aim first: What do they want to learn English for?

They must keep in mind their level of English. How long ago did they take formal lessons? How often would they like to have classes? What kind of student are them? Has their learning experience as a language student been successful so far? Do they know other people who have had positive experiences? Are they ready to do their own research? Once they gather all the answers to these questions, then they will be ready to choose the most suitable side of the coin for them.


NOW IT IS YOUR TURN:
Do you have experience as an online instructor/teacher?
 Have you always been a face-to-face teacher? 
Which one do you prefer and why?


References
Retrieved from

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 is currently studying a master’s degree in Translation. This article aims to reflect on the convenience of taking fixed-schedule courses over online ones.

viernes, 6 de julio de 2018

Why is it Vital to Maximize Our students’ Oral Production?

                                                              By Mayra Yaranga


It may seem obvious to say that students should be given the opportunity to speak as much as possible in language class. Although “TTT” has become a sort of monster that we should avoid at all costs, the truth is that it remains high in our lessons. Let’s revisit some of the rationale behind maximizing our learners’ talking time:

For students, there are several clear benefits of speaking repeatedly in class. First of all, the classroom is the safest setting where learners can practise what they have been learning in class. Teachers should correct mistakes which impede communication and provide feedback on the speaking activities so that students can reflect on what they did well or not. Furthermore, practising speaking from very basic levels –-with carefully graded activities and language patterns, of course-- can boost the students’ confidence and prepare them to face greater challenges in the real world. Finally, when activities, interaction patterns and degrees of challenge vary from lesson to lesson and within lessons, students will need to adjust their effort to meet the demands of the language class.

Teachers can also see benefits in having their students talk most of the time. Obviously, this has a very positive impact on classroom dynamics, because the students become the centre of attention; what they say is the most important thing, much unlike the traditional “let-me-tell-you-about-my-life” teacher that we’ve all had at some point. Lessons in which the students are doing most of the talking are less predictable and the teacher will have the chance to try different activities or techniques to cater for their groups. This extra effort, which may seem exhausting in the long run, can be truly appreciated by students in the end. Let’s not forget that the result of a good class will always be identified in students’ production. If we decide to show off our command of the language and not provide chances for experimentation, we are talking to ourselves, not teaching.

All in all, leading a change in class towards helping our students to maximize their oral production sounds logical though very challenging; nonetheless, we should not neglect it.
It’s your turn

What do YOU think?

What do you do to maximize your students’ oral production in class?

Biodata

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at 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.




miércoles, 27 de junio de 2018

Teaching English in Schools: How Should we Group Our Students?



                                                                            By María de la Lama 


 
In schools, the group composition for teaching English poses the dilemma of whether to have multilevel classes or group students according to their knowledge of English.

Some of the reasons why schools may resist the idea of ​​ convening students according to their knowledge of English, which may imply mixing students from different school grades, are the following:



  • More English teachers would be needed since English classes would be taught simultaneously, probably to a larger number of groups. In addition, organizing students in groups according to their English proficiency will make it difficult to structure the school's class schedule.

  • In a heterogeneous group, usually made up of students of the same grade, all students in the class have a unique learning goal despite the individual differences that exist between students with respect to their English proficiency. Therefore, you may find cases in which a student who has a level of Elementary English must reach the Intermediate level at the end of the academic year. 

  •  It is presumed that in multilevel groups strong students can help weak ones and that weak students will be motivated to work harder than the rest. The formation of pairs in which one of the students has strong skills in English is considered a suitable way to deal with heterogeneous classes.

  • Usually in a multilevel distribution of students, schools establish a specific objective that must be achieved in terms of international exams according to the grade. Therefore, a curricular objective such as "at the end of fourth grade students must pass an international B1 exam" is frequently seen.

  • Although multilevel groups are usually larger than homogenous ones, it is expected that class participation will not be affected since communicative activities can always be carried out.

But are these arguments solid enough not to promote the formation of groups according to students’ English proficiency?

  • The number of teachers required has to be proportional to the number of groups into which students will be divided. Often, schools improve the results of their English program grouping only into three levels: Elementary, Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate groups.
  • As with any other subject, not all the students have the same skills for learning mathematics, history or foreign languages. If mastering a foreign language is the ultimate goal, students need to be grouped in homogeneous classes aimed to reach feasible objectives. Thus, students with an Elementary level can reach a solid Pre-Intermediate at the end of the year while students with a better command of the language can achieve a more advanced level. When students are kept in a multilevel system there is a risk that the students with lower levels of proficiency may not be able to succeed in the course.

  • Conducting activities in pairs where a student with strong linguistic skills gets to work with a partner whose skills are not that good should not be done frequently since the weaker student may feel overwhelmed while the other one may consider the activity a waste of time with little or no chance of improvement. 

Most of the time, adopting a multilevel system to compose groups in schools responds to administrative reasons. However, maximizing opportunities for effective English learning should be a priority and a very valuable investment rather than an administrative issue.


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.

viernes, 15 de junio de 2018


Two Heads Think Better Than One
or Don’t They?
By Flor de María Vila



We have been told that, especially when learning a language, students need to interact in order to accelerate their learning, a point that has been demonstrated time after time. However, we have also found cases in which students either take longer together or do not show any real improvement. Thus, working in pairs or in groups may not be as useful as it seems, may it?
I would say “yes”, and “no”.  I would even say that it depends on many aspects. Do you know which ones? Let´s try to proceed a little further. Help me by answering the following questions:  
1.    Does everybody work at the same pace?
The inescapable answer will be negative. Everybody takes different times to assimilate what they learn or to process information and integrate it into their store of knowledge. Each person decides what to do and when to do something only once they feel comfortable enough to do it.
2.    Does everybody have the same language level?
This is clear as crystal: pupils show different levels of competence of the language, even if they are in the same class. Definitely, our students will show a common level of understanding that can allow us introduce them to new knowledge, but we do realize that these differences will show different outcomes.
3.    Does everybody feel comfortable working with somebody else?
The first reservation that comes to my mind is whether students are extraverts or introverts. Even though there is no direct connection between personality type and language performance,1 we are aware that these types make it more likely to prefer to work in a certain way or another.  
4.    Does everybody have the same background?
The sources of knowledge vary and they are directly linked to the environment in which each individual is involved as well as the type of input to which learners have been exposed.

5.    Does everybody learn in the same way?
The logical answer would be “no” and probably many concepts would come to our minds. Students are attributed to have different learning styles2 or cognitive styles3. We could also consider the different ways of constructing knowledge4, which are  directly associated, for example, to the students´ current stage in their knowledge of the topic, their phase of development, their reasoning abilities, as well as their cultural background. In fact, we can even recall the famous 8 types of intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, since based on them we probably have adapted our approach to teaching.

I do believe that the big question relies NOT on whether students should work individually or with other people but on when they should work individually and when working in groups or in pairs would be a better choice. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages, and we need to consider both to be complementary in the classroom in order to provide ample opportunities for the construction of knowledge and thus for learning a foreign language.

When do our students need to work on their own?
Possible situational advantages:
1.    When they are presented complex concepts: students need to be allowed to integrate them at their own pace. Once they have processed them, they will be ready to interact and reinforce their knowledge or to complete the scheme in order to understand better and integrate these concepts to their knowledge.
2.    When they need to understand basic notions such as the irregular forms of verbs in the past. They will need to try different strategies to file that information and be able to recall it when necessary. I found it difficult to accelerate this memorization by just interacting with others. One can put into practice what has already been processed and understood. Otherwise, it may look like trying to dance tango by just following the music without having first tried the steps on your own.

When do our students need to work in pairs or in groups?
Given the nature of language learning, students will necessarily have to work either in pairs or in groups since interaction and exchange of ideas foster the process. Learning in social contexts is meaningful and it occurs when individuals are engaged in social activities such as the ones done in cooperation with other people, peers or the teacher. FURTHERMORE, working with somebody else gives the chance of being exposed to other points of view and a friendly feedback received can help to improve and develop the first generated conceptions (5).
In any case, guidance is necessary. We have to take the role of guides or facilitators since knowledge cannot just be transmitted magically. Whether they are simple or complex concepts, we need to find ways to help our students construct their own concepts.
Let´s keep in mind that some students in the classroom may grasp new info quickly while others need to struggle with it for a while. Thus, we have to monitor what students do and how they do the tasks assigned in order to ensure that everybody benefits from the process.


Helping our students learn a foreign language is our ultimate goal. In order to achieve that we try different methods of teaching, and a variety of strategies; we use a diversity of resources to make sure that our pupils are exposed to different kinds of input with the purpose of attending different learning preferences as well as keeping them motivated.

In which other cases do students need to work in pairs, in groups or individually? Can you share your views?




(5)  VIDEO- Cooperative Learning: critique and feedback

viernes, 1 de junio de 2018

TO BE (contextualized) OR NOT TO BE? That is the question!


By Enrique Rojas R.


Since men started to inhabit the world, we have tried to develop ways to communicate with each other orally. Thus, different human groups developed diverse languages. In order to connect with other groupings, at least some of the individuals had to familiarize themselves with the language of others. And that is how, through history, so many systems and approaches to teach foreign languages have developed.

Admittedly, some systems were more effective than others, but, in the end, they all achieved their purpose and responded to the reasons why they were created. For example, in the late 19 century, behaviorist theories, combining elements of philosophy, methodology and psychological theory dominated society and determined the way a second or foreign language should be taught. Nevertheless, eventually cognitivist views took over establishing that human beings’ behavior adjusts to the cognitive and to the expectations of what is known. Since learning began being considered a process which brings about the adaptation of significances in the interior of the minds, new proceedings had to be established for the teaching of second/foreign languages.

A number of approaches or systems for the teaching of new languages were created and used, mostly related to the psychological theories prevailing in the time. And they all produced a result. Thus, we arrive at the 1970’s with the advent of the Communicative Approach with the theory that the best way to learn a language is practicing and using it in a meaningful way, this is, really for purposes of communicating something instead of studying the language just as a body of words, sounds, and systems.

Together with communicative language came the issue of Contextualization that is providing learners with language items “into a meaningful and real context rather than being treated as isolated items of jargon for language manipulation practice only.” (British Council, 2006). Halliday defines it as “the events that are going on around when people speak,” in other words, it refers to the situation in which people speak. Spolsky accentuates the importance of social context. He remarked: “…a social context results in learners having different attitudes towards the situation they are in or at least perceive themselves in. This leads on to a higher motivation in learners, which in the case of a task helps learners to focus on it and solve it.” And then he added: “In the model the motivation and other aspects of the pupils’ personality lead to learning opportunities. The context itself can also offer learning opportunities.”

So, for the first time, language was being used in classroom teaching for its communicative function and not just as raw material or educational matter for learning the subject of “language”. Roland K. Yeo et al supplement that learning language in context permits: “Through an integrative framework, we demonstrate that the interplay of cognition, behavior, and context offers insight into how and why learning occurs at multiple levels.” 

In spite of this, it has been contended for a long time that textbooks present language that is a poor representation of the real thing. David Crystal & D. Davy (1975) see it as: “far away from that real, informal kind of English which is used very much more.” (Crystal & Davy 1975: 2) Crystal, D. & D. Davy (1975). Advanced conversational English. Harlow: Longman)

On the other hand, if we are to take as model the way children learn their first tongue there are those who sustain that the way in which children learn their native language is more frequently than not, decontextualized. They say that children learn decontextualized vocabulary from their parents’ speech, language that is deprived of the here and now containing pretend, narrative, and explanatory discourse, with preschool children. Meredith L. Rowe offers examples of these with explanations by parents on why we do things or how things work, commentaries about things that took place in the past or could happen in the future, make believe expressions used during imaginary play, and non-immediate talk during book reading. She observes: “Decontextualized language is challenging for children for several reasons. First, because the meaning of decontextualized language is conveyed primarily through the linguistic cues and not through the context, it requires a more abstract level of analysis by the child than does comprehending contextualized talk that is focused on the here or now, such as object labels… and the linguistic nature of decontextualized language is itself more complex.” (Rowe, 2013)

At any rate, the magic wand to teach foreign languages quickly, effortlessly and ultra-effectively is yet to be found. The best advice is still “Use out of each method those things that work for you and your students.”

And now it is your turn:
What do you think about contextualized language teaching?
Do you employ it? Habitually or sporadically?

References:

Bauer M., 2014 The Role of Contextualization in Teaching and Learning English https://www.grin.com/document/313371. Retrieved: May29, 2018.
Halliday, M. A. K., Mc Intosh, A. y P. Strevens. 1964. The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching. London: Longman.
Rowe, M. 2013 Decontextualized Language Input and Preschoolers’ Vocabulary Development, Ed.D.1         https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/13041200/Rowe%202013.pdf?sequence=1 Retrieved: May29, 2018.
Spolsky, B. 1969. “Attitudinal Aspects of Second Language Learning”. Language Learning 19, (3 / 4), págs. 171-185.

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
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; an 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 19 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.