miércoles, 22 de febrero de 2017

How Can we Assess Grammar Effectively?
                                                                                 By Zarela Cruz

When it comes to grammar, students have the strong belief that its assessment consists of a long list of rules to be memorized, word categories, content words, function words, multiple choice exams and the cherry on top: the passing or failing grade. This is a big misconception. Grammar is a set of rules, but it does not mean that it is not possible to broaden our scope during assessment.
It is true that students must learn a set of rules. That is the starting point of course, but not the only goal. We must, for example, give them the chance to use and apply what they have already or just learned in class, through role plays, presentations and interviews among other well-known activities.
What are we teachers more willing to use? A gap filling exercise, a transformation sentence, error identification, a multiple choice test, an online quiz, and a cloze test are definitely a must. Why? Because they are easy to make and most of all, faster to check.  

Let’ stop for a while and check our objectives: What are we assessing grammar for? To master a grammar topic? Good. And what is the next step? To use it effectively and/or efficiently. Why not considering asking them to prepare a True/False quiz with the grammar points seen so far? You will be surprised to see how creative students can be. You can include some of their questions in a coming evaluation. You cannot imagine the sense of achievement they feel when they see some of their questions as part of your monthly evaluation. You have more advance students? Ask them to prepare a Portfolio. This is not a short-term assignment, but you can monitor it in steps and provide feedback so that they can refine their papers.

An activity I use quite often is writing peer correction. We use an Error Correction Code everybody is aware of and use it when checking a classmate’s writing. At random. At any time. But of course, it is important to show them how this Error Correction Code works with a writing sample. If students are not able to find the mistake, it is simply because they commit the same mistake. Once they have identified their faults, they will be more careful from then on.

And last, but not least important; use a rubric. Students do want to learn from their mistakes, but most of all, appreciate a teacher who is fair, and not only uses the top standardized tests.

Now is your turn:
How do you usually assess your students regarding grammar? Would you try a different approach in the short term?

Let us know what you think! Keep in mind that our purpose is to interact with the teachers’ community members and to share our experience and thoughts.


How to make the assessment of grammar skills more efficient? NOZADZE, Alexandra. Journal of Education. ISSN 2298-0245

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 English and Spanish. She has also completed a number of 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. This article aims to reflect on the assessment of grammar.

miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

Is Speaking All That Simple to Assess?

By Mayra Yaranga

A typical situation in language lessons involves speaking activities, such as dialogues or monologues. The students finish the activity and the teacher gives marks. Unfortunately, it seems all too common that the marks are based on the students’ accuracy in grammar and perhaps propriety in pronunciation. This situation is echoed on students’ attitudes: if they notice that they make a number of grammar mistakes, they typically self-rate their speaking skills as ‘terrible.’

Assessing speaking skills should go beyond checking for grammar and pronunciation accuracy. In fact, I would like to argue that the most important element is often neglected: content. While language system use is relatively easy to observe and errors can be spotted without much effort, focusing on how students develop, support their ideas and use language functions in a way relevant to the task requires a great deal of effort and attention from teachers throughout the entire activity. The complexity involved is evidenced in the very detailed criteria used to assess speaking skills in English language examinations, which include assessing content. If teachers become familiar with such criteria, they should be able to assess their students more fairly and more comprehensively.

Students also need to know what is expected of them in speaking activities. This involves debunking some of the popular myths they hold about language learning. For instance, they need to understand that good pronunciation does not involve imitating a foreign accent, but producing sounds and utterances comprehensible enough for effective communication. They also need to understand that grammar mistakes occur, but could be overlooked to some degree if the message is effectively conveyed.

Finally, I believe that no speaking activity is fully developed if there is no feedback given at the end. For example, if students are asked to have dialogues in pairs to be later performed in front of the class, they need to be given feedback that goes beyond grammar and lexis, but focuses on the content of the conversation, how natural the interaction was, if body language was culturally appropriate, among other aspects. If students are aware of the criteria to be used in their assessment and the teacher provides feedback on such aspects, the activity cycle can be said to have ended successfully.

What do YOU think?
Which criteria do you use to assess your students’ speaking skills?
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 works as IELTS trainer, Cambridge Oral Examiner and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacifico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and Pre-University Centre Director at UNIFÉ. 

viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017

A Renewed Look at developing Listening 
Comprehension Skills

        By María de la Lama E.

Can our students progress in acquiring a foreign language without developing strong listening comprehension skills? Can two people communicate orally if one of them is not able to understand what is being said?   Listening is the main door for learning.  As Rivers (1981) pointed out, in normal life we can expect to listen twice as much as we speak, four times more than we read, and five times more than we write. However, how much time do we allow in our lessons to develop in our students this important skill? Usually, it is assumed that   teacher talk will be enough to develop in our learners listening abilities but, is it enough?
Let’s consider some techniques that have been proved to be effective in developing listening comprehension skills:

1.Go beyond the overused technique of listening for the gist or to get the main idea. Try out other activities such as note taking, clue searching, paraphrasing, inferential listening, or graphic fill-ins.
2.Consider that each level i.e. Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced has its own set of activities each one much more interesting than listening to get main ideas. Thus, while Elementary students can do selective listening or listening with visuals, Intermediate students can enjoy other activities such as inferential listening or story rebuilding.
3.Promote the development of different skills, especially those that will have a positive impact on the students’ communicative competence such as distinguishing word boundaries, recognition of stress and rhythmic patterns, recognition of cohesive devices or even retaining short phrases that have been said.
4.Activate the students’ background knowledge of the topic presented in the listening activity. A very effective way to activate their previous knowledge of the topic to be heard in your students is by asking them to predict what is going to be said. Also, check if your students have the knowledge which is prerequisite to understand the text presented. Consider that there is a relationship between background knowledge and command of the language: a good command of the language will free the student to rely on pre-existing knowledge of the topic to understand an oral message.
Remember that if you ask your students to listen to a text whose context is unknown for them, they will struggle too much with the task and will end up demotivated.
5.Bring the real world to your classroom by using authentic materials. Nowadays there is plenty of listening materials that will make your lessons more lively and motivating. Use extracts of movies, TV sitcoms, songs, etc. You do not need to adapt them according to your students’ level, just control the task that they will perform with that material.
6.Do not expose your students to uncomfortable situations during listening comprehension activities. You want them to feel successful and enjoy their learning experience. Some teachers like to call on to individual students to provide the answers after a listening activity. This is not too helpful. It’s much better to ask them to compare their answers in pairs, and before listening to the text a second time, write their doubts on the blackboard. Thus, you will be doing two good things: your students will be listening again with a specific objective instead of a boring “listen again” and you will be preventing those possible frustration feelings from part of the students that did not get the right answer.

Now your turn:

What do you usually do to enhance your students’ listening skills?  How would you rate your techniques?
Let us know by dropping a few lines sharing your experience with us and our readers!

Source: Teaching Language in Context
Alice C. Omaggio

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.

jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

Are Your Students Bored With Reading? What to do to Change That Situation

By Flor de María Vila A.

Whenever we need to train reading text, the first thought we frequently have in mind is: “Students aren’t terribly fond of reading; I need to motivate them so that they enjoy the activity”
As good teachers, we prepare everything needed to teach our learners how to read. For instance, we prepare videos related to the topic or use different visual aids to enhance students´ participation. In most cases, our pupils get excited and become ready to welcome the passage. However, as the lesson goes on, something happens that makes the honeymoon finish before having the chance to truly enjoy it. Learners start getting bored, and a considerable amount of time has been dedicated to an apparently inactive exercise. Or maybe worse, some students finish first, while the others are still struggling with the text. Then we tend to accelerate the process because we cannot stand a “silent and inactive stage.” We have our students compare their answers either with their classmates or with the key provided by the text or even with their teacher, namely, us.
And the big question is: Does this work? Are students learning how to read? Are we teaching them how to read or just motivating them to do what they already do in their own language?
In fact, this topic needs more than one article to give a better idea of what teaching reading implies. The explanation of what this process means will help us understand why the enchantment of initial motivation does not last until the end of a reading lesson. In general terms, reading is not just the act of decoding symbols, it deals with the comprehension of the message contained in the text and to do so it is necessary that the reader negotiates the meaning between the text and his own background, experience, knowledge, as well as his objective about this activity. It is not enough to work with the well-known BDA activities (activities done before, during and after reading). The act of reading demands not only knowing the vocabulary related to the topic but also discerning how to use the different cognitive skills and strategies that will help establish permanent interaction with the text. This enduringly active communication will create an interaction back and forth which will keep the flame of joy for reading longer and stronger.
If we know how the process of reading really works, we will be able to make better use of any aid to motivate students and keep them motivated along the road. Nowadays, there are many tools that will make this part of the job easier since they provide interesting reading passages, in different levels of English, diverse lengths and dissimilar topics. Moreover, they contribute with the visual aids needed, the pertinent vocabulary explanation and some exercises that will reduce our workload. Some of them are Newsela, News in levels, Readworks, Rewordify, Commonlit, Tween tribune, Breaking news English, Guided reader, Books that grow, and Footsteps to brilliance. Each of them has a number of advantages; you just need to decide which your main objective is to choose the one that fits. Try just one of these tools and start experiencing the change in your reading lessons.
However, do not ever forget that you need more than the dancing shoes to be a dancer. 
We will see more in another article, keep in contact. 

Meanwhile, share with us your experience and together we can take off.
What do you do to keep students´ interested in reading? Do you teach any strategies to improve comprehension? 

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 Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). 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)