martes, 24 de noviembre de 2015

FROM PAVLOV …..TO FedEx…....TEACHING IN PERU!    Is motivating students becoming more difficult?

By Flor de María Vila

What makes students listen to us teachers, pay attention, and carry out the exercises we prepare? Motivation?
The immediate answer may be YES! And we may quickly say that to motivate kids means to grant rewards such as happy faces, candies, more points, etc. Nonsense!! First, answer this: Is there anything that you love doing? singing? dancing?, or anything that you will do for free?.  These activities you love doing show the intrinsic motivation that lies behind; nobody has to oblige you to perform any of these activities. That´s the kind of motivation we need to provide because that will help us to achieve our main goal: encourage students and get them to learn.

What happens with the motivation we have provided so far? Is it wrong?
No! It is good. In fact, giving rewards shows our knowledge of the Classical Conditioning Theory by Ivan Pavlov, which is useful in a way. Furthermore, doing this helps students achieve the simplest categories of the cognitive domain such as “remembering” and “understanding” classified in Bloom´s Taxonomy. But how long do we keep students motivated with this approach? Does it work on “difficult” days such as, let´s say, Monday or Friday? Does it work well enough in the last hour of a Friday´s class for instance?  No? Well, the reason must be that the extrinsic motivation provided by the “rewards” is not strong enough to keep them engaged. Actually, the extrinsic motivation generated by having the students associate the reward with “obedience” or “participation” does not have a long effect. Furthermore, we may find out that they are even less motivated if they have to work on activities that demand the use of more complex intellectual skills such as “evaluating”, “creating” or “analyzing” (Bloom, 1994).  For God´s sake! What can we then do?

Daniel Pink (1) points out how extrinsic motivation produces a result on people´s performance and how lasting its effect could be. He quotes Karl Duncker´s experiment, The Candle Problem, which has been used in Behavioral Science. This experiment proves that rewards narrow our focus. Giving rewards is useful when solving clear and simple tasks but not when it is necessary to solve insight, complex problems. In classes, narrowing students´ focus means keeping them working “motivated” to get the prize, NOT TO LEARN. Luckily, some students may learn, but only simple concepts such as new vocabulary. However, when it comes the time to do more complex activities, the stress caused by the need of obtaining the “prize” is too much. This stress narrows the focus, so learners are not able to perform the task. Not being able to accomplish a task causes DEMOTIVATION. Then, students stop trying and the reward is NOT appealing anymore.

So…what keeps students interested in our classes?
Indubitably, motivation should appear before, during and even after we propose any activity.
Before: for instance, the teacher must show a positive attitude from the very beginning. If you do not show enthusiasm for what you are doing, why should students? We need to be coherent, don´t we? Just picture yourself doing what you love doing: singing? dancing? That´s the attitude we should show!!! After: for example, when evaluating the outcome of an activity, make sure to provide feedback first on what was best, praise everybody´s participation and, if possible, find out together with learners what needs to be done to improve it. There are more ideas about motivating before and afterward, and they will be included in another article.
During: Among other things, using higher level of thinking is what keeps students engaged and happy for longer periods. In fact, that is what helps students learn and that´s our main objective, isn´t it? How can we achieve that? First of all, we need to change the focus: make sure that our students commit themselves rather than just obey us.  We need to give them self–direction (autonomy) and they will love carrying out the tasks suggested. Students need to feel that they are taken into account, that their ideas and choices are valued. So what we need to do is to include events such as the FedEx Day (2) , a day in which basically students themselves design what they are going to do (autonomy)  as long as they do something different. This is not utopian at all. Google and many other companies have implemented this kind of day and they have had great results. Schools around the world practice this and the results are amazing!!  Let students decide what to do on Fridays, for instance, and they will naturally feel more motivated; thus, more engaged with our classes. They can decide to do innovative and different kinds of projects of their choice and interest.  For example, they can do some research about their favourite video game, singer, sports, actor, group etc and prepare a talk about that. They can even decide to do the presentation with a video and/or music. They could act out a chapter of a book they are reading at school (part of a reading plan?) They could prepare a speech or debate about “zombies” or life in another planet!! They will need you to help them with the language or to guide them but with less intervention.                                                                                                                                     
These kinds of activities provide not only autonomy but also purpose and mastery. Having an objective is the engine that keeps the car moving. Mastery must be felt and that will lead to try to become better and better; thus, students won´t stop trying to make progress in what they find interesting.

Does FedEx Day really work in Peru?
It is very likely that we have done this on “project day,” for instance, and we may have considered it a waste of time. The students speak Spanish, not everybody works, and so on. How can we make it different? In order to make this FedEx Day more effective and have students use English the most, make sure they work in pairs or in groups of maximum three members. They could also work individually if that is what they need to feel more autonomous. Let them be! Make sure students choose what and how to work. Needless to say: monitor students´ work. Make sure you collect some evidence of both students´ work and the reasoning behind the activity. You can use the model proposed by Pernille Ripp (3). On the one hand, this can be useful to have some sort of evidence of students´ achievement, which may be required by the principal or our pupils’ parents. This may be necessary for them in case they cannot see the project itself.  On the other hand, students will need to use higher cognitive skills by creating, designing, evaluating, recommending, comparing or solving. Remember that the use of these skills is what makes motivation last longer. Isn´t that what we want? Suddenly, you will see your students waiting for FedEx Day. I am sure you will take advantage of that in many ways during the other days. It is worthwhile the try, is it not? Anyway, if you´ve got any questions on how to do this with your class, do not hesitate to write. I´ll be ready to help you take the FedEx flight!!

Regarding the above, please choose any of the following questions and share your thoughts.

1. Although it is true that intrinsic motivation lasts longer, do you think there could be some instances in which extrinsic motivation can be more effective?
2. What works better with you in class: commitment or obedience? Does it depend on where you work? (school or institute)

(1)    DANIEL PINK- About motivation


Flor de María Vila. 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. She is Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory) and Relationship Associate Manager for American universities´ MBA admissions officers with International Contacts. She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests, former freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS).

miércoles, 18 de noviembre de 2015

Do we have to discriminate against our own
language in order to learn another?

By Enrique Rojas

Everything we learn, we learn it through our language and everything we know we reflect it and express it through our language. Then it may we valid to ask: is it logical to expect that people should learn a foreign tongue without using their own language in the process?
The idea that a foreign language must be taught and learned without resorting to the mother tongue to accomplish it is quite widespread. In fact, it has prevailed without major contention for a considerable period. But in recent times it has come under severe questioning. And there is not conclusive research to demonstrate that students who are only spoken in L2 (the target language) and are compelled not to use their L1 (native tongue) achieve better results in their learning than those who are subject to a rational combination of L1 and L2.


Let’s examine some of the reasons why this allergy of the native language developed in the foreign language classroom. In the first place, the Grammar Translation method used solely the native language as the vehicle of instruction. True. Not very efficient. To this, the Direct Method, called also Natural Method, counteracted refraining to use the learners’ native language and using only the target language. In general, it intended teaching focusing in the development of oral skills (sounds familiar?). To help in that aim, they resorted to teaching concepts and vocabulary through pantomiming, realia and other visual materials. Another characteristic was that students should be speaking 80% of the time during the lesson. It can be observed that the methods of today are then not that modern at all.
Audiolingualism became popular in the 60’s, practically as an offspring of the Direct Method, Structural linguistics and the Behaviorist theory in Psychology. In this method the teacher was just occasionally permitted to use L1 but students had to use exclusively L2.
After this method was discredited, in the 80’s and 90’s, the Communicative Approach began to exist. In the beginning the no L1 use norm in instruction was adopted, but in the long years that it has been in use, many prominent linguists have raised their voices questioning the across-the-board use of this practice.
The success of the immersion method was another factor that counted in the obliteration of L1. Schools that adopted the method of switching completely to the target language eventually showed remarkable success. It should be noticed that they were mostly boarding schools. Also there are many stories of students going to live for a period in a foreign speaking country and returning home fluent in that language. Many schools tried to recreate that, but the problem is that they couldn’t transport the institution to another environment.


It is also worthy of reflection the attitude of the great editorial houses producing textbooks for language learning. These establishments have nowadays a decisive say in the way languages are taught. But their main concern is commercial. They actively support the idea of using only the target language. In this way they may produce books which they can sell all over the world, without any consideration to the local language.
Another point of view that supports this train of thought is Steve Krashen’s Input Theory. He says that the manner to learn another language is by being exposed to it. There’s no denial to this. But is it the only way?
The mother language is something that constitutes part of our personality, the way we are, the way we conceive the world, the manner we have assimilated our own culture. Goldstein (2003) discovered that in situations where students were not permitted to use their own language, even in private spaces, and punishments were applied for using the mother tongue, the results were that students refrained from speaking; when they did, they used their own tongue quietly and felt a sense of shame. He contended that “learning another language should add richness to students’ lives; it should not devalue their own language and culture.” She also points out that students should get the sense that learning another language is a positive experience because they can have access to a valuable resource that adds to their personal worth rather than a source of shame and suffering.
My language is me

One more thing to consider is that we have developed a lot of time and effort to learn the linguistic scaffold of our own language. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of this knowledge to compare and notice what is similar and what is different in the target language, to learn by parallelism and contrast? Why should we have to tread again the whole trail that we followed as children to learn our first language? Why not better use the knowledge we have of our own language as a springboard to learn another?
Of course, it is imperative to avoid an excessive dependence in the students’ mother tongue by both teacher and students because pupils would lose confidence of their ability to communicate in English. It is evident that using the L2 in class is essential to improve their language skills. (Harbord, 1992). Furthermore, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is not possible to learn a language without becoming familiar with the culture that originates it.

wrapping up

In sum, absolute prohibition of L1 across the board in the foreign language classroom seems neither justified nor practical. Much more research about the subject needs to be done and the issue must be discussed further. Extreme decisions are rarely sustainable solutions.

Atkinson, David. The mother tongue in the classroom: a neglected resource?
Ferrer, Vincent. The mother tongue in the classroom:,/THE-MOTHER-TONGUE-IN-THE-CLASSROOM-cross.html?query=Mother-Languages
Goldstein, Tara (2003)  Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. http://tesl-

Enrique Rojas. 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 17 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.

martes, 10 de noviembre de 2015

Online education: is it for everyone?

By Zarela Cruz

Online education has been promoted as “the latest tendency in education”. Therefore, many institutions are tailoring their curricula so that they can incorporate an online component. The question is, is it for everyone?

Going back to the basics
To have the complete picture, let’s go back to the basics. When online education started, it was  mainly used to offer short courses, and afterwards, both certificates and diplomas. As far as I remember, the final exam had to be face-to-face. Needless to say, students were mainly from Lima and only some of them, from provinces. Materials and assignments were normally loaded beforehand and the courses were well-structured, but something was missing: Instructors made the difference: specially when it came to  clarify doubts and reply students within a reasonable waiting time. Eventually, upper education institutions understood that to expand the target market, final exams should be online too, and so the story began.

Is that the solution we have been looking for?
This kind of courses has been promoted as the solution in our busy llves: we can study at our own pace and most importantly, from wherever we are. True, but not entirely. In Lima, access to internet is much faster than in provinces, which is a restriction in itself. Working in groups is not that easy, even when collaborative work does its share, On the other hand, few courses can be completed at your own pace within a time limit whilst most of them have a layout and each week you are expected to participate in forums and do an assignment. Work at your own pace then?  Yes, but within some limits.

Too good to be true?
Do not get me wrong. I do believe that online education can reach many more people and does not need to be syncronic. In that sense, there have been attempts to provide free education. Internationally, Coursera has a wide range of courses, and the main advantage is that your paying a fee for taking a course is not compulsory, although it is necessary to get an international certification.  The price is quite affordable. Too good to be true?  In Lima, I know of another   attempt: Aula Abierta which was an initiative to donate knowledge, but did not last very much. Classes were quite interesting. However,  they were not part of a programme, just isolated lessons from different courses.

Even high-reputed universities like Cambridge University started to offer online courses a few years ago and  they have expanded their course range based on the positive response. Even Harvard Universty has launched an online MBA and a virtual classroom. This is not the only attempt. Yale University’s Business School and other schools have tried out a live web-based classroom and the University of San Diego went much further: they put students in a virtual world, like a video game, where they can take seminars and interact! (see link below)

What now?
I am a firm believer that there is a lot more to develop in this field and that their findings will help to (re)design the online education in the coming years. But, is it for everyone? Is it applicable in the teaching of languages, for example? Do students at universities agree with having the online component in most of their courses? What is behind this decision? Just being updated with technology or increasing their profit? Is there an evaluation in terms of results regarding quality of education in blended courses at universities? What do you, dear reader, expect from online education as student yourself?

Leave a comment and share your experience with us!

What we are learning from online education

Harvard launches virtual-classroom students


Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s degree studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas. During her 20 years’ teaching experience, she has been a teacher trainer in Huaraz and Ayacucho and lectured in some Congresses for EFL teachers in Lima. In 2009 she designed materials for a virtual reading course becoming a tutor shortly afterwards. Since then, she has been taking online courses and certificates in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education and Working Adult Education and a number of online courses such as: Academic Research, From Teacher to Manager, Teacher of the 21st century among others. She is currently an online tutor.

jueves, 5 de noviembre de 2015

Learning English in Peruvian Public Schools
What do YOU think?

By Carmen Hurtado

What would it be if everything you have learned about teaching turns out worthless today? What if, all of a sudden, you are requested to work more hours to achieve certain overnight -goals? Would you be ready to carry out the load upon your shoulder, or would you just ‘follow the sheep’?

As teachers and professionals in this field, we have the thoughtful vow to lead our students and strive for the better in our career.  Moreover, as teachers of English as a Foreign Language, we have enjoyed looking after our students’ learning process in and out. It is quite fulfilling to observe how they gradually develop their skills.  It is time then, to share our thoughts with everyone who is linked with the idea of succeeding in a competitive world; it is time now to discuss what is happening in the field of education in our country. How has this issue being managed, assumed, or treated in the curricula and educational programs along these years? Are we actually aware of the consequences of bursting up the number of pedagogical hours in a native Spanish speaking class, and at the same time supplying the training to non-native speakers, hiring instructors, and supplying expensive trainings? On the other hand, has it been reflected as any other common issue that our authorities could think of, lay on a written project and carried it out once it was time to start it off?

As professionals, it is necessary to let authorities know that this is not a matter of statistics or setting ambitious goals for third parties, but something to be taken seriously if we really want to achieve tangible results in the near future: speaking English as a Foreign Language.
Above all, this situation urges planning and decision-making based on facts - not ‘walking on water’. 

The truth is, times have changed and the world expects professionals who can be ready, who can be part of a team, and communicate with them without any barrier in terms of language. Let’s keep growing together towards the achievement of appropriate EFL-learning in our country. 

Let´s share some ideas. What do YOU think?  How important is learning English for the development of our country? Do you think we are on the right track? What is missing? How is the teaching of English being developed in your workplace?



Carmen Hurtado, graduated in the Educational Field; holds a Bachelor’s degree in Science of Education, and the title of Licenciada en Educación by ‘Universidad Nacional de Educación’. She has also finished her master’s studies in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Universidad de Piura, and taken some specializations in the EFL and Spanish field. She has worked teaching English and Spanish at prestigious schools, institutes and universities for over 20 years. She currently works teaching online and blended courses at university. Her expertise, dedication and interest to research in the educational field have taken her to participate as a lecturer in the late six Annual Congresses at CIDUP. She works as a pedagogical specialist and a member of the Research Area at Universidad del Pacifico Language Center.