jueves, 30 de noviembre de 2017

Is it Really Vital for a Teacher to Become an Innovator?

By Flor de María Vila A.

There usually comes a time when we ask ourselves: “Is teaching what I want to  do the rest of my life?” “Is this all I can do?” Our first answers could be: “Well, I studied to become a teacher,” “I wanted to be a teacher,” “This is what I set off to do because there was no other option,” “This is the job I found and I‘ve become accustomed to doing it.” The concern here resides neither on the questions nor on the answers we could give after granting it some thought. The main issue is why we are asking ourselves those questions! I may dare to think that possibly we are not happy, neither are we satisfied with the routine that our lives have espoused. This could be true if we found ourselves responding: “This is what I am paid for,” “There´s no need to do things differently,” “I do not need to run the extra mile, why would I?”
Resultado de imagen de images of thinking

In an effort to break the routine of those wonted days, weeks, months or even years, I started trying some new things, activities, or strategies. As many may have guessed by now, my resources soon uncovered the end of the tunnel. I found myself posing questions about the formula to innovate, to be creative, and to make my job more worthwhile and enjoyable. Eventually, I did find a way out.
Are people born gifted with creativity and the chip of innovation?
One of the mistakes I realized after talking to some people was precisely the belief that being innovative or creative is a trait you are born with. Crass error! Innovation is a capability and a closed system which needs to be developed. Process is a key word since innovation won´t happen overnight. We need to drop the idea that innovation is a tool or a single activity which can be done once in a while.

How can we self-generate some fuel to restart the engine?
         First of all, we need to convince ourselves that we need to find a reason to walk perhaps not the whole extra mile, but just an extra meter. This is not a joke, it is real! We need to find an incentive to move forward and leave behind the cycle that has engulfed us for so long. The answer could stand in the following five steps. I have tried them over and over and I can say now I feel I have found that my professional life is meaningful.
#1: Every beginning is always difficult, but I feel this one could not necessarily be so hard. Identify any possible problem or difficulty observed in any of your lessons. For instance, your students find it difficult to understand what two native speakers say in a conversation. You repeat the audio again and again and the results hardly provide significant improvement.
#2: Think of possible reasons why your students face this problem. Do not focus only on the problem. Try to determine what might go wrong in the process before playing the audio. This step is crucial! Do not cling yourself to what you already know even if you are knowledgeable. Be humble and explore other teachers’ ideas by asking your colleagues or by reviewing research in the subject. You will be surprised and able to connect-the–dots more easily. Once you have collected ample information, you will be ready for the next step!!
#3: Build up your archetype. At this point, you will be more aware of what the problem in the procedure is. Thus, you will be ready to design a solution to the problem identified in step #1. Do not worry; it doesn’t have to be perfect! It´s just your first attempt. The next one will surely be better. Don’t quit! Remember that you need to find an incentive to get rid of the routine that has wrapped you! Now, you are equipped for the next step!
#4: Test your solution. Here, you will need to put the newly found solution into practice. But, before that, keep the following in mind: remember the objective of the activity, give clear instructions and monitor the development of the exercise. For this, you need to be alert in order to identify the signs that will reveal the achievement of your goal: the solution of the problem or at least some form of improvement.
#5: Prepare your deliverable. Once you have tried the solution you will be ready to officially propose it as a good end result. If, by any chance, the proposed solution didn’t work, don’t worry. Remember this is just the first attempt and a way out may appear soon. Little by little, you will learn to adjust details. In either case, you will need to go back to step #1. Take into account that even if the solution is perfect for one group of students, it may not be the same with all students. For that reason, you will need to adjust or reformulate the remedy. Analyze the situation and try to find out what needs to be changed or what can be improved.

This cycle can be repeated as many times as needed, and it will always keep you rolling. 

Have you ever tried this cycle? How do you help your students to overcome the problems they face when learning?
Share your expertise with us and let us try new things. 

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).

viernes, 24 de noviembre de 2017

Why Our English Doesn't Sound LIke Theirs?

By Enrique Rojas R.

You know the story. He was a very good English student; at the language center, he communicated effectively with his classmates and the teacher, he was quite vocal and he’d made individual and group presentations before his classmates in power point, prezi and you name it, and even participated in debates. But when he arrived in the States he found he couldn´t understand people very well, and was unable to make himself understood, to the point that he became mute for all practical purposes, at least in what the English language was related. What had happened?

And the educational institution where he studied advertised repeatedly and loudly that they used the Communicative Approach, the one that can’t fail, the very one we continue calling new and modern although it has been in use for over half a century. How could have gone wrong?


Yet this occurrence keeps repeating in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and other places where the language of Shakespeare is common currency. There’s a communication gap for the new arrivals from our country. It would seem he learned a kind of English that is different to the one used in all these latitudes. What kind of English would that be? Perhaps a Peruvian or a Latin American version of it?

The truth to this dilemma is not based on a different type of English at all, Not dissimilar in terms of syntax, morphology or semantics. The problem is with pronunciation, a topic that usually escapes the diligence and frequently even the awareness of most English teachers. It’s the “spanglization” of English in terms of pronunciation. We can say that the majority of English teachers suffer from it and spread it to their students.

The main reason for this is the bogus assumption that English and Spanish share the same alphabet; therefore, educators don’t feel the need to teach it right from the beginning to their pupils like their colleagues from China, Japan, Egypt or Russia do. “English and Spanish use the Latin characters so we don’t need to learn them” they usually think.

The problem is that we tend to identify letters with graphemes, that is, with a visual form of representing them. But we forget that the graphic symbol also represents a sound, a phoneme. In the case of a Spanish speaker, each grapheme is correspondent with a phoneme. But in other languages, a grapheme can be representative of more than one phoneme. In English, a grapheme can be the visual clue that represents up to six different phonemes.

Furthermore, the way in which bigger children, teenagers and adults learn the English vocabulary is through the eyes not the ears. Students find it very hard to identify a word when they hear it from a native because it contains sounds they are not familiar with. Only when they see it written with the characters they know they can take it in and venture to repeat it. But then, they adapt it to the sounds they are used to utter, based on the phonemes they can associate with the letters they see. And abracadabra! The Spanglization process has taken place.

We have to ponder that, as Marta Bartolí, from the Rigol Laboratori de Fonètica  Aplicada – LFA, at Universitat de Barcelona, notices “…in the communicative approach, written language is still used as a support in the teaching of oral language and pronunciation. As we will see, the reading-writing base of teaching can damage phonic acquisition.”

And that is precisely the difference with children. One of the reasons why they pay more attention to the English utterances and learn how vocabulary sounds in this language is because they can’t read, they just imitate the sounds they hear. They are not restricted to a number of phonemes they have already learned.

Another reason for the small children noticeable prowess in terms of pronunciation is given by Steven Krashen who contends that babies are born with the capacity to hear and distinguish all phonetic speech sounds from all different languages in the world and that they lose that capability respect to the phonemes they never hear and keep it only for the phonemes employed in the language or languages they are normally exposed to.

In sum, we aren’t doing things right in teaching pronunciation and when trying to teach real English. Something needs to be done. I, for one, feel that we should go back to teach the alphabet, the whole alphabet. With graphemes as well as phonemes.

What do you think?
Why is real communication with locals so difficult?

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, 15 de noviembre de 2017

Assess Writing so That Students Learn From the Experience

                                                              By Zarela Cruz

As I pointed out in the workshop, first of all, we should ask ourselves: Why do we think our students should write?. Once we get our aim, the next question should be: What kinds of writings do our students usually do as a task? Why is that so?. Now we are ready to answer the following question: How do we correct our students’ writings?

I absolutely believe that giving our students the tools to write successfully is a must. Let’s start by knowing the names and uses of punctuation marks, then let’s give them functional phrases they can work with. Is that it? Not at all. Providing a model text would be very helpful as well as reviewing connectors. And last, but not least important, do share with them the correction rubric. That way, our students will be aware of what must be taken into account when performing the given task. The rubric must comprise a suitable assessment criteria for the level you are teaching.

Expanding sentences inserting extra information is a very useful way to teach students to write. It also helps when you provide a model text in your class to be corrected by everyone. Keep in mind that spotting somebody else’s mistakes is always simpler than spotting our own.

During the workshop at our congress, teachers were really cooperative and came up with interesting proposals; all of them were really valuable. One particular point they made was identifying all the mistakes, even the ones that were not penalized in that particular task. In their opinion, it works as an alarm clock, since students will be aware of them from then on.

Do you find these strategies useful?
Have you tried different ones?

Do let us know! Visit us on:

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 Writing.

sábado, 4 de noviembre de 2017

The Language Teacher as Researcher: Practical Implications

By Mayra Yaranga

Research is sometimes understood as a task that is not easy to achieve, especially if it is conducted following traditional academic research methods. However, many teachers may be performing research in their areas even without being aware of it. Just by having a problem and wishing to look for a solution, we have the perfect scenario to start doing research.

What is Research?
Among the many definitions on research all of the authors agree on one thing: research involves having a problem we would like to solve.

Why doing Research?
When doing research in foreign language teaching and learning, teachers may pursue two aims: evaluating existing knowledge or analyzing the effectiveness of a proposal.

Research in foreign language?
When doing research, it is important to reflect on three aspects: The learning context, the pedagogical context and the policy context in terms of local and global issues. For instance, if a teacher wanted to find out what makes their students learn lexical phrases more easily, they would be working within the first context. They would analyse the literature related to lexical learning and then evaluate to what extent the existing information would suit their students’ needs. If, on the other hand, teachers were more interested in evaluating their pace of delivery in a kindergarten foreign language class, they would be working at the teaching level. They would probably need more hands-on work, like recording themselves and asking others for feedback. The third context seems to be the hardest one to work on but if we, for instance, think of the fact that in public Peruvian schools the extent of English language instruction has increased, we would be right to ask: what does the government expect by adding more hours for English lessons? What will students achieve when finishing the secondary level?

What to do to promote research in class?
Probably the easiest thing to do is to keep a kind of self-assessment system. By writing down some reflections based on the lessons taught, on the results students achieved, the problems which arose in class, and looking for answers in some way, we are carrying out Action Research.

Another very interesting method is peer observation. We may have an idea of why our lessons are effective or not but, when we receive the point of view from an outsider, we can have a richer assessment that can help us make more informed decisions and vary our approach to certain problem areas.

Now it is your turn:
Have you ever developed research in your class?
What did you find out? What was the impact?


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.