miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017

Is it fair to include a listening section as part of our exams?

          By María de la Lama

It’s not an uncommon practice for English teachers when preparing exams to include a listening comprehension section.  In many tests, listening comprehension receives the same weight as any grammar or vocabulary section. But, is this a fair practice? Can we evaluate listening comprehension in the same way that we evaluate grammatical or lexical knowledge?  The answer depends on whether  our students’ listening comprehension skills have been developed during the course, a development that implies  a systematic training  throughout  the course with  a practice that goes beyond the automatic   playing  of CDs to students . Listening as a receptive skill requires the training of more complex cognitive skills that cannot be developed with our overused listening exercises to get main ideas or specific information.

There are two important factors that need to be considered in the development, and  hence evaluation, of listening skills: the teacher’s understanding of what it is implied in developing good listening comprehension skills and what our students need to reach this goal.
Regarding teachers, a good first step would be banishing    from their daily teaching practice the oversimplification of the listening practice reduced to promoting the ability of listening by getting the main idea or specific information.  In order to develop good  listening skills in our students we must  consider that there are other micro skills that need to be worked in class, such as  recognizing  stress and rhythm patterns as well as  cohesive devices; distinguishing  word boundaries or reconstructing  and inferring  situations, goals and participants, just to mention a few.

Regarding our students, if we want to include a listening section in our exams or tests it is worth considering whether we have given them the needed strategies to deal with this challenging skill. Information such as what to do before, while and after listening to a text is a valuable practice.  Thus, before listening students should predict, activate their background knowledge of the topic,   and most importantly, remember that the understanding of every single word of the text is not necessary    to complete the task successfully. In the same token, while they listen they can be taking notes, focusing on content words and paying attention to contextual cues.

If students have had the chance to develop sound strategies to deal with listening texts and received    thorough training aimed to develop important micro skills, then their performance in this skill can be graded in exams.

Now YOUR turn:

What do you think? Which viewpoints do you agree or disagree with? Would you like to share your own experience related to this topic?

Let us know by dropping a few lines! Until soon!


DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Licenciada en Educación, cuenta con una maestría en Lingüística Aplicada y Bachillerato en Lingüística, ambos obtenidos en la Universidad de California, Davis.   Posee además un MBA  por la  Universidad del Pacifico. Actualmente se desempeña como Directora del  Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.

miércoles, 8 de marzo de 2017

Are we in Reality Assessing Reading Comprehension? Is it Legitimate to Evaluate What we Have Not Taught?

By Flor de María Vila A.

        Nowadays the capacity for reading comprehension is frequently discussed. Among the many ideas that are debated comes that related to how much we, as a nation, have improved in reading comprehension. We are no longer in the 69th place but in the 62nd in PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). That appears as good news. However, it is valid to wonder, how much we teachers in general, or teachers of English as a foreign language, have cooperated to improve the reading comprehension level of our students.
        In a previous article I probed if we, teachers of English, are instructing learners on how to read or whether we are just evaluating how well students already do it in their own language. Regrettably, I am afraid that in general we just settle for evaluating; we do not teach how to read or help our students to improve their reading comprehension. Ask yourself honestly the following questions: What activities do you carry out in addition to activating students ‘previous knowledge? Do you know and teach reading strategies? Do you guide your students to use reading strategies before, during and after reading? Do you know what metacognition is? Do you teach how to use metacognition in the process of reading?
        Grasping what one is reading is more than the ability to remember ideas and information that are directly stated in the textbook material (Literal Comprehension). Neither is just the ability to extract ideas and information not directly stated in the textbook material, using prior or background knowledge to assist in such understanding (Inferential Comprehension). Truly, these are the two most common and basic levels of reading comprehension. Most textbooks come with many exercises appraising and promoting these levels of comprehension. In our lessons, we tend to think that if students can answer the questions provided by the textbook, they are then able to understand what they are reading. And this may be true, but we are not teaching them how to read; in many cases, we are just setting the scene by explaining the meaning of new words, asking a few questions to create interest and setting the time to do the exercise.
         Have you had your students make predictions about the probable meaning of the text? Have you monitored your students´ comprehension by questioning them, having them think about, and reflect on the ideas and information in the text? Have you helped students to relate what they have read to their own experiences and knowledge? If more than one answer is negative, it is very likely that you are not teaching how to read but simply helping them to fill out the exercises provided.

        It wouldn´t hurt to find about other levels of reading comprehension such as evaluative, appreciative, applied and critical. Knowing what these other levels of comprehension really mean will enable us to design and propose other kinds of activities to teach how to read or to help our pupils improve their understanding of what they read in our classes or anywhere else. Together with these levels we should also review or learn the reading strategies used before, during and after reading any text no matter whether it is short, long, easy, or difficult; no matter whether it is reading for pleasure or for doing an assignment. 
        Think about the following and share your ideas:
Is it possible to teach reading in our classes? Can we help our students improve their reading comprehension? How?

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)

jueves, 2 de marzo de 2017

Are EFL Teachers in a Position to
Assess our students writing?

By Enrique Rojas R.


Assessment is commonly defined as the act of making a judgment about something. In the case of educational assessment, it is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skill, attitudes, and beliefs. But when we come to defining assessing writing in a school setting, for students of English as a foreign language, we find that it means a lot of different things for most teachers.

Conception and association of ideas, creativity, imagination, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, usage of correct structures, conventions, presentation, spelling, coherence and cohesion are among the many things that teachers consider and grade when confronting a student’s piece of writing. The real problem is that the great majority of them have not provided much instruction to their learners about those aspects.

This evaluating activity does not respond to formative assessment since most frequently there is no real plan or follow up system to help improve students’ writing. It is rather usually considered another tool in grading the learners‘ work to provide the institution with records. The problem is that it could not be considered summative assessment either, since they are evaluating abilities that were not properly taught and capacities that were not enhanced during the lessons.

It happens that teachers evaluate fluency, elegance and cohesion from students that have never been instructed about what a simple sentence is, let alone complex sentences or have never heard about the different types of independent or depending clauses. Of course, instruction should go from the simple to the complex. The question is then how many students have a working knowledge of such basic things as punctuation or capitalization.

Textbooks face the issue simply presenting different types of written exchanges, e.g. an email to a friend, an application for a job or to a university, a letter of complaint to a store, etc. and prompting students to imitate its structure and vocabulary. But, come on, can this seriously be considered teaching how to write?

The fact is that the absolute great majority of learners have never heard of a topic sentence; don’t have a clear idea about what a paragraph is or which are the parts of a composition. And that is because we, teachers, don’t tell them about it. And neither do their Spanish teachers, for that matter.

Then we are admired when students that find their way into the university can’t write. Good readers produce good writers, but that is not the case of the majority. So it should not come as a surprise they are quite inept to express their thoughts effectively in writing.

So we should start by devising a good plan for teaching our students how to write going from the simple and basic to the more sophisticated concepts, and then improve it gradually with the help of formative evaluation.

Then we will be able to assess them as they go through the different steps of producing written communication mainly with the help of rubrics devised for every step of their learning.

Now your turn:

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint?
How do you usually teach and assess Writing in your classes?

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 18 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.