miércoles, 20 de marzo de 2019

Are you Happy With Your Role in the Classroom? Would you Dare to Change it?

By Flor de María Vila

         Nowadays, there is a great deal of talk about the required qualities English teachers should have in order to facilitate their students to achieve their main goal: learn English. However, this ideal profile with a number of competencies is thought to match with any reality whether this is the one observed in a developed country or the one found in a developing country. If we had to narrow down the perspective, we may also have to think of the context, that is society, the educational model, or even the school where we teach. In this sense, we are also expected to adopt different roles which are definitely necessary while conducting a lesson.
             I remember the first training sessions I attended and find myself a little overwhelmed by all those functions described in famous books. It was very challenging, though.
          Let´s take a look at the following roles (1). Make a mental check and think carefully before giving an answer. Don´t rush!

       We actually do a lot, don´t we? Apparently, we should be satisfied with what we have done so far. However, I feel there comes a point when one feels that even though one masters the roles mentioned above, something is still missing.

          Is that all we can do? Isn´t there anything else that should be done?

          We are not just a sort of eternal operators in the teaching process in which we follow the book or the innovations proposed by experts, are we? Once we start gaining some experience, we should try to turn into leaders. I do not necessarily mean extrovert leaders. We could also develop into introverted leaders if we prefer not to be in the spotlight. I got inspired by Susan Cain (2) who claims that in many cases introverted people are better leaders.
         Isn´t becoming a leader an interesting role? It may sound so common and at the same time threatening. Probably, we feel contented enough and we just do not want to leave our comfort zone. Obviously, we may feel afraid of many things. Probably, the most common fear is TO FAIL. It´s natural, we are humans. Nobody wants to feel embarrassed. However, I would like to challenge you and assume the following role:  a leader in a very specific area. 

STEP 1: Choose one these options of roles, but keep it as a secret. Choose the one the fits your talent and/or your interest the most:

Role A

Specialist in curriculum, lesson plan, objectives and so on. All teachers have to implement content standards, write lesson plans or fill in any other document which would in a way inform the authorities of the institution if we are keeping the standard and appraise them of the progress we are making. If we must do this, why not becoming a specialist and help others.

Role B

Learner: Become that teacher who is always willing to look for new strategies to teach listening for instance. (3) Grow into an insatiable tracker and exchange information with your colleagues to find the best approach for your students. 
I´m sure that once you begin, your eagerness will become contagious.

Role C

Resource provider: There is always a teacher who knows which web sites, instructional materials, readings, or other resources that can be used to help students with any difficulties can be encountered. Another one I have found is that who knows the latest online games, or other technological tools to enhance our teaching. For instance, Kahoot or electronic roulettes to choose the first speaker in a class presentation. What about you? Choose only one and believe me, you will feel fantastic sharing what you know with your colleagues and your lessons will become the best!

Role D

Promoter of change: Are you the teacher who does not always feel content with the results? Why don´t you try posing questions to generate an analysis of student learning? You can start by asking yourself and trying to find answers with any searcher on the web or read a book about it. If you are committed to continuous improvement, this is your role. Just go one step ahead: share this concern with your colleagues and propose alternatives to solve any issue. It may be a good idea to propose changes and together with your colleagues or on your own talk to your coordinator or any member of the staff that could hear you and be open to make changes. Substantial changes need support and authorities will definitely welcome them because that will improve the standards.

STEP 2: Take any opportunity to offer your help to colleagues. Some aid is always welcome and nobody is judging, so you won´t fail. Keep track of the results and you may have the chance to assist again.

STEP 3: Get together with other colleagues that have the same interests and you could become a team: one specialized in anything that you choose. Sometimes it is easier and much more fun to work with other people.

STEP 4: Explore other options such as becoming an innovator or a researcher. For that, you may need to read the following articles:
          As I mentioned before, adopting the role of a leader is not that difficult. If your main concern is the possibility of failing, keep it secret first. Little by little start sharing what you know with people who need to know what you know. Help them and you won´t fail. 

Are there any other roles I haven´t mentioned? Have you tried them?
Share your experience with us! 

(1) The TKT course (2011) Spratt, M., Pulverness,A., & Williams,M. Cambridge University Press

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)

miércoles, 13 de marzo de 2019

Why we Keep Trying to Square the Circle or Circle the Square?

By Enrique Rojas R.
         During the years it is common that some adjectives face a process of enhancement, while others, on the contrary, follow an amelioration route. Thus, it is now common to think of an objective thought as something truthful, balanced, straightforward while the word subjective we deem as opinionated, imbalanced, capricious, even fickle.
         In the educational field the inclination towards objective and subjective evaluations has been typical of different periods and educational styles. The thing is that subjective evaluation relies on opinions about intangible characteristics, while an objective performance evaluation depends on inarguable facts. In other words, objective evaluation is governed by grading endeavors to calculate quantifiable standards of quality. Nowadays we have learned that there are times when subjective evaluation should be used while some other instances call for objective ones. A factor in evaluation to be considered is the degree of subjectivity, which is usually a factor in assessments of student work especially when the effort is performance-based rather than content-based.
         The problem lies in that there is no objective perception of an object. The object is what or who we observe or refer to. The object is what it is. Any intent of apprehending it by means of the senses or the mind involves a subject who effects the perception, making it then unavoidably subjective.
         We tend to think that objective, because of the fact that only admits one possible answer, is closer to reality, “more truthful,” but this is not necessarily true because what we consider “objective” tends to be one-dimensional and, therefore, allows important considerations escape from our appreciation.

Number One is the best?

         To illustrate that, parents and peers generally consider the best student the one that obtains the higher scores in exams and performance, without taking in consideration the effort that they made to attain that. We all know that effort is a very difficult element to measure in a quantitative fashion. But probably the teacher can observe, subjectively, that there is another pupil with greater achievements and merits.
         So a subjective judgment involves more elements of judgment and should provide a wiser decision. But the problem comes when the subject, together with elements obtained from the object, incorporates components from his own psyche, namely feelings, inclinations, likes, dislikes, etc. That is what makes the validity of a subjective opinion quite relative.
         So we should accept as a fact that “objective” assessment does not exist. But there are courses susceptible to be measured in a more objective manner, such as the scientifically oriented ones, while it is impossible to gauge objectively subjects of an artistic nature.
         Language is generally considered within this last category and that includes foreign languages, naturally. Nevertheless, evaluation of comprehension and use of a language, English for example, is not restricted to the academic field but also practiced for other reasons like labor, immigration, international trade, tourism, aviation and many others. And the institutions providing international exams have opted for a combination of objective and subjective tests. The first are necessary because they are associated with a basis of fairness and also because they alleviate the job of correcting the papers. But the abilities related to speaking and writing must be evaluated subjectively since they are not based on unique and unequivocal answers.

Trying to objectivize the subjective 

        It is in these circumstances when rubrics become so important. They constitute a scoring guide that is employed to evaluate the quality of the students’ constructed responses. A rubric has three essential features: evaluative criteria, quality definitions, and a scoring strategy. Rubrics must help students acquire the skill represented by the test and each evaluative criterion must represent a key attribute of the skill being assessed. But the problem subsists: the teachers have to evaluate criteria anyway, which is in fact complex and subjective. International examining organizations try to guarantee that all of their certified examiners grade a response in the same manner. The thing is that notwithstanding all the training, in the end there will always be a degree of interpretation of the rubric and valuation of the student response. Will they eventually manage to square the circle?

Now, your turn:
Are you shattering your brain trying to round the square?
Is evaluating a nightmare for you?

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, 6 de marzo de 2019

Is it Justified to be Afraid of Technology at Work?

                                                                              By Zarela Cruz

      We are not going as far as technophobia, but we should admit that most of us have been afraid of technology at work up to certain extend. What can we do to deal with this fright successfully? How can we feel at ease, or at least, comfortable with it?
     Remember when Office burst out in the market? And we were told that overhead projectors would be replaced by a desk computer so we could use Power Point presentations? For some, it meant a new challenge; for others, a nightmare. I was quite fortunate to be picked in the first group of teachers that got some training from experts. Unfortunately, we did not make the most of it since the expert used terminology we were not familiar with and explained things really fast. How frustrating! I was sure there had to be another way, so I tried a course for grandparents at my children’s school. Yes, grandparents. What a difference! The teacher was very patient and their assistants too. And our big smiles when doing something well were genuine…and so was the teacher’s satisfaction. I realized the best courses and/or trainers are not the ones that have a lot of degrees, but the ones that are capable of putting themselves in their students’ shoes and are empathetic.
      Another experience was in a congress in Argentina some years ago. There was a lecture about technology, and it was fully booked.  The presenter talked about the advent of the cloud. I am convinced 90% of the audience could not grasp what he meant. Now I know clouds are used to storage information, like a USB memory. How simple it was!  On another occasion, I was very interested in learning about social media. The presenter showed us all her life in Facebook and LinkedIn and also talked about… yes, you are right, clouds one more time!!! There was I, frustrated again! Was it useful? Not at all, but since then, I keep that experience in mind as a clear example of what NOT to do when giving a workshop. I dislike people that use a lot of technical jargon with a novice audience. I do feel pleased when a presenter asks about the audience’s experiences with technology and gets to know how familiar they are with the topic and tailors their presentation to the current needs of that particular audience. These are the champions that will make us love technology and not to be afraid of it.
      Below, some suggestions to reduce our level of anxiety regarding technology at work:
1.   ASK A COLLEAGUE TO HELP YOU: There is always  someone at hand who has more experience with technology, or it seems easy for them to use some programs or devices. In exchange, perhaps you can offer your assistance in a task you know this person is struggling with. Sometimes, it shows up in a conversation during a break, while socializing. It won’t hurt to give it a try.
2.   READ ABOUT TECHNOLOGY. My advice: follow some people that are in the field and, most importantly, who YOU understand. Social media is very useful; you can use either Facebook or LinkedIn.
3.   TRY AN ONLINE COURSE. The range of topics and prices of these lessons is quite diverse. Having this kind of experience will give you more confidence to deal with technology at work.
4.   DON’T BE TOO HARSH ON YOURSELF. Some devices are friendlier than others. Take one step at a time. First learn one or two tasks, practice them and include them in your daily classes. Then, try another and so on. Sooner than later, you will have incorporated a considerable number of software functions successfully.
What about you?
Are you struggling with technology at work?
Have you ever found it frustrating to deal with it daily?
Let us know what you think!

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 has just finished her master’s studies in Translation. This article aims to reflect on the (un)justified fear of the implementation of technology at work.