miércoles, 29 de mayo de 2019

Online Courses: Are we Doing Them Right?

                                                              By Zarela Cruz                                                                                                             

        When it comes to learning online, teachers and prospective students have their own expectations. However, sometimes appearances are deceiving; there is the misbelief that these kinds of courses are quite simple and they demand much less effort than face-to-face ones, either for instructors or students. 

        There are different kinds of online courses: synchronous and asynchronous. In the former, there is a tutor and a group of students who engage in learning at the same time. The teacher accompanies you all along the course and monitors your progress. In the latter, you learn at your own pace, free from the simultaneous occurrence of a classroom lecture. These are self-study courses that have graded activities or a multiple-choice test at the end of each module; some also have videoconferences and a weekly session to clarify doubts.

        The questions listed below are important when it comes to planning an online course:

  1. How is it going to be structured?
  2. How will students interact in your online course? Is it going to have in-person components or are they going to be self-study courses?
  3. Will students need to attend classes at specific times?
  4. Will there be some sort of interaction among students?
  5. What will the typical weekly workload be?
  6. How many weeks will it last?
  7. What should students know before enrolling in this online course?

By keeping these aspects in mind, we will know for sure the chances of success they have and the adjustments that need to be done before launching them.

Have you ever taken an online course?
What was it like?
Did it work as expected?
What would you change next time?

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 this important current topic,

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martes, 21 de mayo de 2019

Word Lists: do They Help Learners be Fluent in a Language?

By Mayra Yaranga Hernández

We will probably remember our early English lessons. Especially at the beginning, one part of the lesson was when the teacher would pick up flashcards or write words on the board, drill them and then provide/elicit a translation for them. This would go on for a few words, and the lesson’s lexical content had been covered. Eventually, we would get tested on either the words themselves or their translations –if we remembered them, we were safe. When we are young language learners, this usually works, basically because traditional teaching focuses on words and, at best, sentences. Also, because the words being learnt belong to the ‘here and now’, as abstract processing is still not a part of pupils’ development. And finally, because these words have very clear semantic limits, so it is easy to categorise them in groups like ‘fruit’, ‘vegetables’ or ‘feelings’.

The problem begins when working with higher levels and/or older students. Is it enough to just provide a list of words to memorise every class and then hope that the learners will have incorporated them all into their repertoire? I would like to claim that this is just not enough, and may be one of the features of traditional teaching: rote learning. Why do we need to go beyond word lists in our teaching? Here I will give two reasons:
        The words are not necessarily set in context. By context, we mean a more or less natural linguistic setting –-an audio recording or a written text— where learners can see the word being used naturally. This will help them to, first, realise that the word is useful, and second, get some help to experiment with it safely.
        The words are usually given in isolation. That is, we do not encourage our learners to see the word patterns (“collocations”) they occur in. What is the point in learning the word ‘fun’ if we do not show that it appears in phrases such as She’s fun to be with or It was such fun!? This is why we should check how the word combines with other words in order to make meaningful chunks.

What is outlined above does not only apply to general English, but also areas where apparently students are better at coping: ESP and international exam preparation. One famous example of project work in ESP consists of building a glossary of specialised terms in the L1 and L2. This is said to help students remember the specialised terms but here, if no context or collocations are given, students will be deprived of the best tool they have to internalise the vocabulary: the way in which the word is used. Isn’t it what they want to learn?

This includes collocation, appropriacy (is the word used among professionals, with the general public?), frequency, and even the shades of meaning in related words (What is the difference between lawyer, solicitor, attorney and barrister, when all mean abogado in Spanish?) A similar situation happens with the publications and websites offering ‘500 useful words for [Insert exam name]’. A catchy title, indeed, but with little pedagogical value for the same reasons mentioned above. Learning those 500 words does not guarantee a half-decent essay, let alone impressive speaking skills.
All in all, we should never forget that vocabulary is not a matter of memorising words like parrots. It involves making associations, discriminating and seeing words within chunks of language for easier use.

Now, it’s YOUR turn!
Do you use vocabulary lists in class? What advantages and drawbacks do you find when using them?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) Doctor in Education (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.

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miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2019

Misbeliefs in Education: Could we Ever Defeat Them?

By Flor de María Vila

       Some pedagogical practices considered traditional or mistaken tend to keep alive in spite of advances and new knowledge. 

Many factors could be identified to explain this situation. Among them, we could mention teachers’ conceptions and beliefs regarding the teaching-learning process, conceptions and beliefs that teachers already have, based on their own experiences (Pozo et al., 2006), and that will guide teachers in the definition of the activities they will apply in their classes, whether they are planned or not. 

        Beliefs, true or false ones have an affective, evaluative and episodic nature that would be working as a filter, through which all new phenomena are interpreted, even when knowledge and beliefs are interrelated (Pajares, 1992).

Beliefs are built at an early age and tend to perpetuate even when reasoning, time, school or experience produce conflict. Furthermore, Pajares (1992) pointed out that the older the belief is, the harder it is to change it; something that does not happen with recent beliefs, as they are more vulnerable to changes. This explains why adults rarely modify their beliefs; grownups tend to maintain them even if they are based on incomplete or incorrect knowledge. For this reason, teachers with many years in teaching show difficulty in changing schemes and in adapting themselves to new trends.

         In addition, we could consider as another factor the professional preparation that teachers may have received. In this professionalization period, teachers may have acquired or instituted certain knowledge that could steer or influence their pedagogical practices. Early experiences and prior knowledge strongly rooted in teachers could cause interference in the acquisition of new perspectives and knowledge of the process of teaching and learning. For this reason, although teachers may hold higher college studies or may have received refresher training on new knowledge, it is not reflected in their performance in the classroom and, on the contrary, they continue applying a traditional teaching method.  

           In any case, we still meet misbeliefs such as the ones that are practised with the precept that their extensive or exclusive use will guarantee students’ success in learning a language. We still find cases in which the emphasis on these practices is such that considering paying more attention to other sources of knowledge is forgotten even if doing so will entail a more comprehensive approach for teaching.

          Some of these misbeliefs are closely related to concentrating on providing a number of grammatical rules or long lists of vocabulary as well as offering a bunch of materials such as books, copies of exercises, links and so on. Another common one is that in which the solely use of a platform is synonym of use of technology in its most advanced version. In this new series we are launching, our team of researchers will share some insights about these misbeliefs.

Do you know any other beliefs that bound our teaching in a certain way?
What could we do in those cases?

Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers' Beliefs and Educational Research: Cleaning up a Messy Construct. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 62, No. 3, pp. 307-332.
Pozo, J., Sheur, N., Pérez, M., Mateos, M., Martin, E., De la Cruz, M., (2006) Nuevas formas de pensar la enseñanza y el aprendizaje. Las concepciones de profesores y alumnos. España, Grao.


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)

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viernes, 10 de mayo de 2019

Do we teach vocabulary or do we enable our students to acquire new words independently?

            By María de la Lama

During English courses, students want to incorporate new words into their "English" in order to speak fluently. In fact, the construction of vocabulary is a skill that students must develop in order to enrich their repertoire of vocabulary for themselves.

Here are some tips you can provide your students:

Avoid having your students memorize vocabulary lists. Instead, it is more productive to learn words in phrases. Therefore, learning “collocations” is more effective than learning an isolated word. For example, when they learn the word “steak”, students can at the same time memorize words that usually go with “steak”: well done, medium or rare. Another example is the noun "story" where a student can immediately learn the collocation "tell a story".

Show students that learning new words that belong to the same semantic category is not only easier, but easier to remember. For example: when they learn the cooking verb "bake", students can learn another two or three cooking verbs such as steam, fry, boil,  etc.

Teach students to find relationships between words and to represent that relationship. For example, when teaching the adjectives "cold" and "freezing" instead of giving students a wordy explanation, write this on the board:

 Cold +
Freezing ++

The use of the plus symbol easily  transmits the difference in meaning between these two words.

But how do teachers check their students’ comprehension of new words without translating them into their native language?

To begin with, we must avoid our tendency to ask "empty questions" such as: do you understand the meaning of this word? or do you have any questions? 

Instead of asking this kind of questions, guide your students to process the meaning of a new word, BUT to do this, teachers need to be good at asking effective questions. Consider the following example: our students face the word "shy" for the first time and the teacher gives them an explanation of its meaning in English. But how do we know that the students understood the meaning?

a)   By giving synonyms or antonyms of the word “shy”?

b)   By eliciting examples of people who are “shy”

Even though the two options can be helpful, they are not as  effective as the appropriate “guiding questions” formulated by the teacher. Look at the following examples of guiding questions for the understanding of the word “shy”:

a)   Do shy people enjoy meeting strangers?

b)   Is it easy for shy people to make friends during a trip?

Let’s consider another example: Mary wishes she were in Brazil.

Getting the meaning of this sentence is more difficult because of the use of “wish + subjunctive”. Thus the following guiding questions would come handy:

a)   Is she in Brazil now?
b)   Does she want to be in Brazil?

Always remember that our memory works better when we are involved in the process of working out the meaning of a new word.


DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.