miércoles, 28 de noviembre de 2018

The Teacher as a Researcher: a Dream or a Nightmare?

By Flor de María Vila

In the process of trying to diversify my lessons, I found myself trying different formulae to teach. Even though many changes went quite well, I felt that something was missing. I mean, sometimes I felt that what worked very well with a group didn´t turn out equally satisfactory with another.  Then a new journey began and after many trials I came to the conclusion that if we pursue a real transformation, we need to go deeper to find the real reason why something works or why it does not.  In order to do that we need to start one of the most amazing trips: research.
Can any teacher do research in his classes?
          Absolutely! In fact, we may say that it should be considered as part of any teacher´s development.
Is it difficult to do?
          I wouldn´t say it is the easiest exercise, because nothing worthwhile ever is. However, I can promise it is manageable.
          In the following lines, I will share some secrets to begin. After that, you will need to ponder what you have done and what you will eventually do.
#1. Select a minor hindrance in your lessons or anything that prevents you from feeling absolutely satisfied with your classes.
          It is more probable that you will be motivated to get under way if what you are planning to do is likely to help you with your lessons and not that just become another “load.” We teachers are already pretty busy, aren´t we? But it is really important to begin, no matter how. So, on the first day, select that issue that bugs you or something you feel could be improved.

#2. Make a diagnose of the current situation. You cannot “cure the illness” unless you identify the symptoms, can you?
          It´s necessary to try to pinpoint what the problem is, why a lesson went wrong or why it didn´t work with a certain group of students.
Make a list of the activities you organized and recollect the objective you had for each one. Were they achieved? Why or why not? Share this situation and ask your colleagues what they think or if they have ever been in a similar situation.
Next time you carry out a similar exercise, for instance, a listening practice, record yourself using your mobile phone. You can either only tape your voice or have a video made. Sometimes, we do not become aware of the problem until we listen to or watch ourselves in action.
You can even ask your students why they have difficulty with a certain exercise, for example. They may give you important information.
Last but not least, surf the web and type for instance “problems with listening skills.” You will find thousands of articles that could give you a better idea of what could be happening.
          It is crucial to gather information from different sources before attempting another way of teaching. You may also like to read this article: https://languageteachingblogger.blogspot.com/2018/07/listening-skill-difficult-to-teach.html

#3. Do not panic! Now you have a lot of information, so you are ready to prepare a plan of action.
          Believe it or not, this is manageable. You can start with the simplest plan you can think up. I would suggest connecting one of the ideas your students gave you, one of the teaching experiences your partners shared with you and one of the solutions described by the authors you read.
          Prepare a simple plan which should have the following characteristics: Activity, its objective, and a sample of evidence that will show that your venture is working. Make sure this evidence is visible so that you can monitor and keep a record.
#4. Evaluate and plan again.
          Assessing yourself is not that difficult if you have a clear objective. It is simple: If the goal was achieved, then your plan worked well. If it wasn’t, you need to reflect and plan considering another solution. Go back to #3 or #2 if you feel you need to gather more information to propose something new.
From my experience, I could say that the hardest thing is to commence. When I began, I felt I didn´t need more work (probably you don´t either). Nevertheless, when I realized that my job started to flow and that my students could improve their skills faster, I just let myself be carried away by each issue I needed to fix or improve.  

So today begin with the easiest step: #1

Do not try to do more today, or you will be feel overloaded.
Tomorrow, you can hack # 2 and then go on from there.

Feel free to share your experience or ideas.

Action Research for Language teachers by Michael J Wallace
Action Research in Language Learning by Mohammad Ali Nasrollahia, Pamela Krish , Noorizah MohdNoorc

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).

jueves, 22 de noviembre de 2018

Are we Prepared to Let our Students Think Critically?

By Enrique Rojas R.

The whole concept of education seems to have changed. In our modern pedagogical jargon we refer to things such as critical thinking, developing reflective judgment, and fostering independent reasoning as the newest tendencies. However, coming to think of it, aren’t those characteristics inherent to the thinking process? Our deliberating, just in order to be ours, doesn’t it have to be critical, reflective and independent?

         The concept of teaching as sharing knowledge with our students is no longer accepted if by knowledge we understand a bundle of facts, truths and principles that are fed in oral or written form by preceptors to disciples. People used to think of teachers as individuals full of knowledge distributing it among the students, pretty much as in the example presented by Jim Scrivener, of a full pitcher (the instructor) pouring its contents into empty mugs (the students).
  But if we go back to our ancient Greek roots, we cannot imagine the pedagogues merely splitting out pieces of wisdom. The concept that the real mission of a teacher was to educate their students to think could not have been strange to them.
         In much more modern times but still far from our contemporary millennial thinking, Bloom clarified different aspects of teaching and learning far from just spoon feeding intellectual stuffing. So, critical thinking cannot really be an invention of recent days.

         However, in the teaching of foreign languages, as in other aspects of education, it is appalling how we cling to worn out and erroneous formulae. Just an example of that should suffice to demonstrate it. Only a few years ago in a major learning institution a supervisor was coaching teachers in proper exam correcting techniques telling us that we should exclusively accept the answer offered in the answer key. When we asked why we could not accept an equivalent answer, he told us: “Because the answer in the answer key is aligned with the textbook and this is what the students have been taught and, therefore, what they have to answer.”  We wonder what that type of attitude has to do with educating.

Are you ready to let your students think independently?
Do you accept alternative meaningful answers?

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, 14 de noviembre de 2018

Social Media and Technology in the Classroom

                                                                            By Zarela Cruz

        Who hasn’t heard of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Google? Are we already used to Blackboard and Moodle? Social media does encourage social connections and does allow exchange of information at once.

        Despite their drawbacks: access to questionable content, addictive nature, bullying, and negative peer pressure, there is no doubt that they are here to stay. Since we can either embrace technology or neglect it, we should set up filters that prevent students from getting distracted and/or waste their time.
        We have to consider that there are also tremendous benefits when it comes to social networks. On the optimistic side we find that introducing the latest tools and technologies can be a great ally and not only to the growth of our students, but also towards the educator’s professional development.
        Below, I list some positive ways in which social media can be used in our lessons:
Social Media Technology in the Classroom Helps to Increase Student Knowledge

        And it can be done in a few minutes! How?  By simply scrolling through your newsfeed. You can also easily find relevant information by using #news. Besides, you can discover information about different fields: from gardening to astronomy. And at the reach of a click!

Allows Students to Get Help from Others
      They can get this help from another student or from an expert. Students can also have the chance to send private messages to the teacher in case they need some clarification and/or want to share their progress.

Can Encourage Student Participation
        How so? Shy students will feel more comfortable sharing their insights via internet. Social media also allows students to collaborate with each other: by posting in Wikis and Blogs, for example; leaving their comments and exchanging information.

Students May Keep on Working on Topics of Their Interest
        Once the activity or task is over, students have the chance to keep on working on topics of their interest by contacting experts. They can even find valuable related links or websites and share them with teachers.

And What About Teachers?

Resource Sharing
        By using MOOCs like Blackboard or Moodle, teachers can share documents, videos, websites and applications with their colleagues. These platforms also allow teachers to load updates, messages for the students, reminders of upcoming events, tasks and their deadlines among others.

Tool for an Educator’s Professional Growth
        There are institutional international networks that help to foster professional growth. How? Enhancing collaboration and contacting colleagues all around the world. Teachers can either be mentors or have mentors to get feedback about teaching styles, classroom problems, disruptive insights and so on.
        With increased web access, teachers and students get information they may have been completely unaware of. This, in turn, will have a say in the proper implementation of social media and technology in class. 


Do you use social media and technology in the classroom?
 Are you for or against it?


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 using social media and technology.

miércoles, 7 de noviembre de 2018

Humans Wanted: Soft Skills in the English Classroom

By Mayra Yaranga Hernández

Tolerance, social perception, empathy, emotional intelligence, cultural awareness, critical thinking and others are part of a set of crucial skills we all need to survive in a world filled with materialism and vanity. We all know these skills are essential to adapt to a rapidly changing world but, are we born with them? Can we learn to develop them? Can they be taught? And if so, can they be measured somehow?

         The World Economic Forum, through its Future of Jobs Report 2018, suggests that by 2022 the top skills people must have will be: analytical thinking and innovation; active learning and active strategies; creativity, originality and initiative; technology design and programming; critical thinking and analysis. As we can see, most of them are soft skills. If the aim of education were to develop them, would it be possible to insert them in the context of a classroom? To be more precise, do they have a place in an EFL lesson?

         Current knowledge on soft skills tells us that they are not really teachable –-that we are somehow born with them-– and that they are common to all human activity. It is also agreed that they are not easily measured because they are of a more qualitative and subjective nature. Therefore, it may seem that their application in an English classroom is not feasible. On the other hand, if asked, teachers would probably say they all develop these skills to a certain extent when they promote leadership, tolerance or empathy. I would argue that this is true, though the key word here is “promote”, which is different from “teach” and sounds a lot less overwhelming! This could be done on a daily basis and without any explicit instruction: a hidden curriculum for the benefit of students.

         Given their importance, then, we should reflect on ways to promote soft skills in our daily work. An example could be how we encourage active listening: we could ask students to talk about something personal, and then ask their partners to report it to the whole class in as much detail as possible, including personal reactions to what they heard. It may sound rather obvious, but for some students this is quite challenging, as they are not used to paying too much attention to their peers. Furthermore, the next step would be to discuss ways to address soft skills with colleagues, in order to find common best practices and set criteria to assess them in a way as objective as possible. Perhaps, in our current world filled with emotionless technology, this could be the light at the end of the tunnel: a way to create the human beings the world needs.

Now it’s your turn
What do YOU think?
Do you promote soft skills in your lessons? How?

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.