miércoles, 24 de julio de 2019

¡Felices Fiestas Patrias!

Este 28 de julio
celebremos a nuestra patria
valorando su riqueza cultural
transmitida en 47 lenguas nativas
que valen un Perú!

miércoles, 17 de julio de 2019

If you can say it, you can write it. Can you?

By María de la Lama

Almost fifty years ago, Wilga Rivers said that the old saying “If you can say it, you can write it” was simplistic in its concept of the communicative aspect of writing. However, even today we tend to consider writing as a final product, too often for evaluation purposes. Therefore, from our teaching perspective, we are concerned about our students’ written product, but not the process they go through to create, organize and transmit ideas. Paying attention to a final product and not to the process of writing itself, makes us focus only on grammar, vocabulary, and spelling, that is mainly the use of the language.
In the eighties there was an important transformation in the way the development of our students´ writing ability was seen, going from focusing on the product to focusing on the process, a transformation that, unfortunately, is not shown in many of our courses today.

The first step we must take to see writing as a "process" is to pay close attention to how our students develop good quality ideas and how they plan to organize them within a text. Let me emphasize the phrase "good quality". In general, and I have seen this in many university students, there is a misconception that writing in a foreign language prevents us from generating intelligent and solid ideas.

Students believe that when we write in English, the use of the language is what matters, not the content. Therefore, whenever a text is free of language errors, the quality of the content is relegated to a second place. Unfortunately, this lack of quality content will become a source of difficulties when students need to pass international English exams such as the GMAT or GRE, required to pursue graduate studies.

What then are the indicators that we should bear in mind if we want to develop the process of creative writing in our students?
  • Students have a lot of practice in the generation of ideas and how they relate to each other.
  • Students learn to analyse if the idea they are considering is powerful enough to be a "topic sentence" which in turn can be developed into a paragraph.
  • Students are taught how to plan, review, reread and rewrite each time they realize that they are not conveying their ideas clearly.
Becoming a good writer will give our students an invaluable competitive advantage for academic and professional life. So, what can we start doing?
  1. Develop in your students the ability to generate "powerful ideas" and then find logical relationships between them.
  2. Begin your writing lesson generating ideas by using brainstorming techniques.
  3. Consider quality content as a necessity. Content is as important as the use of language.
  4. Think process": teach your students how to review, rewrite, clarify and, why not, write it again!
  5. Always start by writing only one paragraph.
  6. Incorporate activities in which they can evaluate how coherent a paragraph is. That is, how clear and logical the ideas presented in a paragraph are.
  7. Train your students in the use of connectors and always recommend grouping them by meaning. For example: However, nevertheless, but have same communicative function.
  8. Provide students with good practice in the use of cohesive devices that allow them to connect words at sentence level.
  9. Style is important! Students must learn how to address different audiences by selecting the tone needed to convey their ideas: formal, business, informal, etc.
To develop good writing skills in your students you need to “Think process”. A good start is paying attention to how your students come up with good ideas and how effective they connect them rather than rushing to grade grammar and vocabulary.

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.

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miércoles, 10 de julio de 2019

Autonomous Learning: a Dream or a Reality?

By Flor de María Vila

       Nowadays, in the technological and digital era, acquiring knowledge is at the tip of our fingers or should we also say that an oral message would be enough to search what we want?
      Even though the answer may be affirmative, we need to consider that finding the right information does not necessarily mean learning takes place. If we want learning to be achieved, we must at least have a plan and other components. Nevertheless, even if we did, we may still need the help of a professional, the teacher.  

 What happens in an everyday class? Who decides what needs to be learned? 

        Apparently, that is the teacher’s job: to decide what has to be done in order to help students achieve their goals. In fact, that is why everybody registers for a course in an institution or takes classes with a private teacher. Most of us need somebody to instruct us in what we need to do. Thus, a teacher would perform many of the following tasks:

1. Identify what students want or need to accomplish.
2. Make a diagnose of students’ level of English.
3. Determine how much time the student will need to reach the required level.
4. Choose the best material: a textbook if possible, and additional material to provide
 further practice. 
5. Others.

What else do you think a teacher must keep in mind?

What about methodology? 
         This must be connected to the students’ learning style, rhythm, and skills. We teachers always have to adjust our teaching strategies to our students’ needs and interests so as to keep their motivation buzzing. 
If we do all this, why are there still students who either take too much time to learn or seem to learn nothing at all?
  Unfortunately, many times some students think that because they attend classes, they would just learn magically as if we teachers had a sort of powerful mind able to transfer all our knowledge and enable them to either speak or write, for instance, in the blink of an eye. It is true that a good class should be such that students will leave the classroom knowing what was taught; however, what the teacher does in the classroom is not the only element that should be considered when measuring results. Actually, there are many other factors intervening and the students themselves constitute an important one. Thus, whatever they do or fail to do certainly affect their learning as well. Acquiring would depend on a number of different experiences provided by the teacher as well as by the students themselves. This number of experiences will affect learning as you will see in the following simple graph.

         I also need to underline how important it is to recognize that the more learners practice, the better and faster they will learn. Experience in this context will be connected not only to what students do in class but also to what they do outside the classroom. Furthermore, we need to remember that mastering a language is the result of developing both, motor and cognitive skills, which are closely related according to Piaget (1). I always compare mastering language with flying an airplane or how driving a car. Nobody, as far as I know, would be able to fly a plane or drive a car by just reading the manuals. It is necessary to practice an extended period to begin doing it and then a large number of hours to overcome the skill. Thus, anybody who thinks that attending classes will be enough to gain control of a language is mistaken. In order to make it possible for a person to lodge something into their long term memory, they have to “experience” or practice many times, especially if he wants to learn fast. If a student relies only on what the teacher offers in class, he will certainly take more time to absorb anything. 

What does a learner have to do then? What suggestions could we give him? 

   In order to help students practice intelligently, the teacher has to help him by recommending the following:

1. Review what has been done in class

2. Apply what he has done in class in something he is doing at school, university or work.  That is, if he has learnt how to give suggestions in class, he could start writing or recording recommendations to people in his environment. The student must experience that what he has been taught proves useful.

3. Watch videos. Just make sure to teach students how to take advantage of the videos. It is not useful at all to only share links without telling them what to do. Even better, open one of those links in class and model how to use them. Otherwise, watching videos or listening to them would be a waste of time and energy, yours and his.

4. Organize his time to practice constantly. There is not much efficiency in doing some exercises from time to time. Just remind them how many hours pilots, for instance, invest in their flights before becoming authorized pilots. 

5. Monitor their progress. For this, they first need to set objectives. Without them is like going to the supermarket and buy something and then return home and start wondering: What can I cook today? A waste of time and money, isn´t it?

By the way, some of these suggestions could also be useful for self-taught students who would try skipping classes or saving some money. In any way, one always needs some guidance. If one happens to have a kind of coach, as most of us teachers are, it could be better because we will save them time relying on our experience and knowledge, though I have met some students who needed merely very little help because they were already accustomed to studying on their own. 
                                   What else can we suggest to our students? 
                                    Share your experience and ideas with us* 

(1) Piaget, J. The origins of intelligence in children. Norton & Company, New York,   NY; 1952


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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miércoles, 3 de julio de 2019

Artificial Intelligence in The Classroom: A Threat or a Helping Hand?

                                                                                  By Zarela Cruz

         We all know the scenario: robots overtaking humans…how scary is that? When it comes to our classroom, what are the chances to be displaced by artificial intelligence or mere chatboxes?

         First of all, let’s get information about what artificial intelligence is capable to accomplish. I quite often read information about algorithms, chatboxes and apps, not only to be updated but also to try them myself. There is an important distinction to be made: technology used by teachers and technology employed by students.  Each one has definite purposes, to say the least.

         Below we can find some reflections about my findings:

 AI is already being applied in Language Acquisition In fact, this is not new at all. The application of AI started about 30 years ago. Duolingo is a free app used to learn languages and it is quite popular among students, since it is free. This app has recently included a new feature: a chatbot, which allows students to practice without feeling embarrassed of making mistakes, especially if they do not feel particularly confident when speaking. We were all new to the language once; would you not have preferred if there had been absolutely no potential of anyone taking notice of those mistakes?

2.   AI is really effective in terms of collecting data, which allows the standardization of information regarding students’ production, let’s say in written tasks, and also provides instant feedback. There are platforms that are available 24/7. This gives the students the sense of always getting attention. Who would not like getting immediate replies when practicing? Waiting for feedback may be quite discouraging.

3.   LUMILO is an augmented reality assistant which, together with the teacher, monitors students’ performance in real time and allows the teacher to assign more challenging activities to stronger students and provide support to the ones that are struggling with the tasks. If we do not step up and accept the challenge that the ever-improving augmented reality technology presents, who will?

4.   GRAMMARLY corrects students’ writings. This means saving a lot of time in class. What can a teacher do then? Identify the students’ weaknesses and providing them with practice on that particular issue. Besides, this application helps students to know their scores, how well they are doing, but NOT how to write and/or organize a text. Because of this, students will still ask themselves “but what can I do to improve?” which will result in them seeking advice from their teachers.

5.   Technology promotes collaboration. Forums and wikis work really well. Teachers start the thread and students participate by answering the main questions and replying to at least two of their classmates. Rules regarding participation must be clear to make the most of it.

    6.   Technology reduces repetitive tasks by programming the feedback of each question in an exam after it is finished, for example, which in turn allows not only to get the score, but also statistics of the classroom’s results. It is also very handy when getting the final scores of a course since we upload each activity’s grade all along the duration of the course or the term; when it is finished we are able to get the final score just by clicking on it. As teachers, we deserve some help with data organization too, don’t we?

7.   And last, but not least important, when dealing with this fear of being substituted by a contraption, rest assured, technology will never be able to replace teachers. However, our roles are constantly changing, and this is no exception. We will turn out to be supervisors in the learning process. Once again, this is not breaking news. With the Flipped Classroom, we have a similar role. It is a matter of not losing perspective.

Now, what about you?
Have you ever felt threatened by technology that your institution has invested on?
Do you think it is not a fair competition or just not possible to compete with Artificial Intelligence?

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, the use of Artificial Intelligence in the classroom.

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