miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017

Is it fair to include a listening section as part of our exams?

          By María de la Lama




It’s not an uncommon practice for English teachers when preparing exams to include a listening comprehension section.  In many tests, listening comprehension receives the same weight as any grammar or vocabulary section. But, is this a fair practice? Can we evaluate listening comprehension in the same way that we evaluate grammatical or lexical knowledge?  The answer depends on whether  our students’ listening comprehension skills have been developed during the course, a development that implies  a systematic training  throughout  the course with  a practice that goes beyond the automatic   playing  of CDs to students . Listening as a receptive skill requires the training of more complex cognitive skills that cannot be developed with our overused listening exercises to get main ideas or specific information.

There are two important factors that need to be considered in the development, and  hence evaluation, of listening skills: the teacher’s understanding of what it is implied in developing good listening comprehension skills and what our students need to reach this goal.
Regarding teachers, a good first step would be banishing    from their daily teaching practice the oversimplification of the listening practice reduced to promoting the ability of listening by getting the main idea or specific information.  In order to develop good  listening skills in our students we must  consider that there are other micro skills that need to be worked in class, such as  recognizing  stress and rhythm patterns as well as  cohesive devices; distinguishing  word boundaries or reconstructing  and inferring  situations, goals and participants, just to mention a few.

Regarding our students, if we want to include a listening section in our exams or tests it is worth considering whether we have given them the needed strategies to deal with this challenging skill. Information such as what to do before, while and after listening to a text is a valuable practice.  Thus, before listening students should predict, activate their background knowledge of the topic,   and most importantly, remember that the understanding of every single word of the text is not necessary    to complete the task successfully. In the same token, while they listen they can be taking notes, focusing on content words and paying attention to contextual cues.

If students have had the chance to develop sound strategies to deal with listening texts and received    thorough training aimed to develop important micro skills, then their performance in this skill can be graded in exams.

Now YOUR turn:

What do you think? Which viewpoints do you agree or disagree with? Would you like to share your own experience related to this topic?

Let us know by dropping a few lines! Until soon!


BIODATA:

DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Licenciada en Educación, cuenta con una maestría en Lingüística Aplicada y Bachillerato en Lingüística, ambos obtenidos en la Universidad de California, Davis.   Posee además un MBA  por la  Universidad del Pacifico. Actualmente se desempeña como Directora del  Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.

miércoles, 8 de marzo de 2017

Are we in Reality Assessing Reading Comprehension? Is it Legitimate to Evaluate What we Have Not Taught?

By Flor de María Vila A.

        Nowadays the capacity for reading comprehension is frequently discussed. Among the many ideas that are debated comes that related to how much we, as a nation, have improved in reading comprehension. We are no longer in the 69th place but in the 62nd in PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). That appears as good news. However, it is valid to wonder, how much we teachers in general, or teachers of English as a foreign language, have cooperated to improve the reading comprehension level of our students.
        In a previous article I probed if we, teachers of English, are instructing learners on how to read or whether we are just evaluating how well students already do it in their own language. Regrettably, I am afraid that in general we just settle for evaluating; we do not teach how to read or help our students to improve their reading comprehension. Ask yourself honestly the following questions: What activities do you carry out in addition to activating students ‘previous knowledge? Do you know and teach reading strategies? Do you guide your students to use reading strategies before, during and after reading? Do you know what metacognition is? Do you teach how to use metacognition in the process of reading?
        Grasping what one is reading is more than the ability to remember ideas and information that are directly stated in the textbook material (Literal Comprehension). Neither is just the ability to extract ideas and information not directly stated in the textbook material, using prior or background knowledge to assist in such understanding (Inferential Comprehension). Truly, these are the two most common and basic levels of reading comprehension. Most textbooks come with many exercises appraising and promoting these levels of comprehension. In our lessons, we tend to think that if students can answer the questions provided by the textbook, they are then able to understand what they are reading. And this may be true, but we are not teaching them how to read; in many cases, we are just setting the scene by explaining the meaning of new words, asking a few questions to create interest and setting the time to do the exercise.
         Have you had your students make predictions about the probable meaning of the text? Have you monitored your students´ comprehension by questioning them, having them think about, and reflect on the ideas and information in the text? Have you helped students to relate what they have read to their own experiences and knowledge? If more than one answer is negative, it is very likely that you are not teaching how to read but simply helping them to fill out the exercises provided.

        It wouldn´t hurt to find about other levels of reading comprehension such as evaluative, appreciative, applied and critical. Knowing what these other levels of comprehension really mean will enable us to design and propose other kinds of activities to teach how to read or to help our pupils improve their understanding of what they read in our classes or anywhere else. Together with these levels we should also review or learn the reading strategies used before, during and after reading any text no matter whether it is short, long, easy, or difficult; no matter whether it is reading for pleasure or for doing an assignment. 
        Think about the following and share your ideas:
Is it possible to teach reading in our classes? Can we help our students improve their reading comprehension? How?

Biographical Data
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). 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, 2 de marzo de 2017


Are EFL Teachers in a Position to
Assess our students writing?

By Enrique Rojas R.

                              



Assessment is commonly defined as the act of making a judgment about something. In the case of educational assessment, it is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skill, attitudes, and beliefs. But when we come to defining assessing writing in a school setting, for students of English as a foreign language, we find that it means a lot of different things for most teachers.

Conception and association of ideas, creativity, imagination, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, usage of correct structures, conventions, presentation, spelling, coherence and cohesion are among the many things that teachers consider and grade when confronting a student’s piece of writing. The real problem is that the great majority of them have not provided much instruction to their learners about those aspects.

This evaluating activity does not respond to formative assessment since most frequently there is no real plan or follow up system to help improve students’ writing. It is rather usually considered another tool in grading the learners‘ work to provide the institution with records. The problem is that it could not be considered summative assessment either, since they are evaluating abilities that were not properly taught and capacities that were not enhanced during the lessons.

It happens that teachers evaluate fluency, elegance and cohesion from students that have never been instructed about what a simple sentence is, let alone complex sentences or have never heard about the different types of independent or depending clauses. Of course, instruction should go from the simple to the complex. The question is then how many students have a working knowledge of such basic things as punctuation or capitalization.

Textbooks face the issue simply presenting different types of written exchanges, e.g. an email to a friend, an application for a job or to a university, a letter of complaint to a store, etc. and prompting students to imitate its structure and vocabulary. But, come on, can this seriously be considered teaching how to write?

The fact is that the absolute great majority of learners have never heard of a topic sentence; don’t have a clear idea about what a paragraph is or which are the parts of a composition. And that is because we, teachers, don’t tell them about it. And neither do their Spanish teachers, for that matter.

Then we are admired when students that find their way into the university can’t write. Good readers produce good writers, but that is not the case of the majority. So it should not come as a surprise they are quite inept to express their thoughts effectively in writing.

So we should start by devising a good plan for teaching our students how to write going from the simple and basic to the more sophisticated concepts, and then improve it gradually with the help of formative evaluation.

Then we will be able to assess them as they go through the different steps of producing written communication mainly with the help of rubrics devised for every step of their learning.

Now your turn:

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint?
How do you usually teach and assess Writing in your classes?

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
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 18 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, 22 de febrero de 2017


How Can we Assess Grammar Effectively?
                                                                                 By Zarela Cruz

When it comes to grammar, students have the strong belief that its assessment consists of a long list of rules to be memorized, word categories, content words, function words, multiple choice exams and the cherry on top: the passing or failing grade. This is a big misconception. Grammar is a set of rules, but it does not mean that it is not possible to broaden our scope during assessment.
It is true that students must learn a set of rules. That is the starting point of course, but not the only goal. We must, for example, give them the chance to use and apply what they have already or just learned in class, through role plays, presentations and interviews among other well-known activities.
What are we teachers more willing to use? A gap filling exercise, a transformation sentence, error identification, a multiple choice test, an online quiz, and a cloze test are definitely a must. Why? Because they are easy to make and most of all, faster to check.  

Let’ stop for a while and check our objectives: What are we assessing grammar for? To master a grammar topic? Good. And what is the next step? To use it effectively and/or efficiently. Why not considering asking them to prepare a True/False quiz with the grammar points seen so far? You will be surprised to see how creative students can be. You can include some of their questions in a coming evaluation. You cannot imagine the sense of achievement they feel when they see some of their questions as part of your monthly evaluation. You have more advance students? Ask them to prepare a Portfolio. This is not a short-term assignment, but you can monitor it in steps and provide feedback so that they can refine their papers.

An activity I use quite often is writing peer correction. We use an Error Correction Code everybody is aware of and use it when checking a classmate’s writing. At random. At any time. But of course, it is important to show them how this Error Correction Code works with a writing sample. If students are not able to find the mistake, it is simply because they commit the same mistake. Once they have identified their faults, they will be more careful from then on.

And last, but not least important; use a rubric. Students do want to learn from their mistakes, but most of all, appreciate a teacher who is fair, and not only uses the top standardized tests.

Now is your turn:
How do you usually assess your students regarding grammar? Would you try a different approach in the short term?

Let us know what you think! Keep in mind that our purpose is to interact with the teachers’ community members and to share our experience and thoughts.

References

How to make the assessment of grammar skills more efficient? NOZADZE, Alexandra. Journal of Education. ISSN 2298-0245

Biodata
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 grammar.

miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

Is Speaking All That Simple to Assess?



By Mayra Yaranga




A typical situation in language lessons involves speaking activities, such as dialogues or monologues. The students finish the activity and the teacher gives marks. Unfortunately, it seems all too common that the marks are based on the students’ accuracy in grammar and perhaps propriety in pronunciation. This situation is echoed on students’ attitudes: if they notice that they make a number of grammar mistakes, they typically self-rate their speaking skills as ‘terrible.’

Assessing speaking skills should go beyond checking for grammar and pronunciation accuracy. In fact, I would like to argue that the most important element is often neglected: content. While language system use is relatively easy to observe and errors can be spotted without much effort, focusing on how students develop, support their ideas and use language functions in a way relevant to the task requires a great deal of effort and attention from teachers throughout the entire activity. The complexity involved is evidenced in the very detailed criteria used to assess speaking skills in English language examinations, which include assessing content. If teachers become familiar with such criteria, they should be able to assess their students more fairly and more comprehensively.

Students also need to know what is expected of them in speaking activities. This involves debunking some of the popular myths they hold about language learning. For instance, they need to understand that good pronunciation does not involve imitating a foreign accent, but producing sounds and utterances comprehensible enough for effective communication. They also need to understand that grammar mistakes occur, but could be overlooked to some degree if the message is effectively conveyed.

Finally, I believe that no speaking activity is fully developed if there is no feedback given at the end. For example, if students are asked to have dialogues in pairs to be later performed in front of the class, they need to be given feedback that goes beyond grammar and lexis, but focuses on the content of the conversation, how natural the interaction was, if body language was culturally appropriate, among other aspects. If students are aware of the criteria to be used in their assessment and the teacher provides feedback on such aspects, the activity cycle can be said to have ended successfully.

What do YOU think?
Which criteria do you use to assess your students’ speaking skills?
Biodata
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. 


viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017



A Renewed Look at developing Listening 
Comprehension Skills

        By María de la Lama E.



Can our students progress in acquiring a foreign language without developing strong listening comprehension skills? Can two people communicate orally if one of them is not able to understand what is being said?   Listening is the main door for learning.  As Rivers (1981) pointed out, in normal life we can expect to listen twice as much as we speak, four times more than we read, and five times more than we write. However, how much time do we allow in our lessons to develop in our students this important skill? Usually, it is assumed that   teacher talk will be enough to develop in our learners listening abilities but, is it enough?
Let’s consider some techniques that have been proved to be effective in developing listening comprehension skills:

1.Go beyond the overused technique of listening for the gist or to get the main idea. Try out other activities such as note taking, clue searching, paraphrasing, inferential listening, or graphic fill-ins.
2.Consider that each level i.e. Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced has its own set of activities each one much more interesting than listening to get main ideas. Thus, while Elementary students can do selective listening or listening with visuals, Intermediate students can enjoy other activities such as inferential listening or story rebuilding.
3.Promote the development of different skills, especially those that will have a positive impact on the students’ communicative competence such as distinguishing word boundaries, recognition of stress and rhythmic patterns, recognition of cohesive devices or even retaining short phrases that have been said.
4.Activate the students’ background knowledge of the topic presented in the listening activity. A very effective way to activate their previous knowledge of the topic to be heard in your students is by asking them to predict what is going to be said. Also, check if your students have the knowledge which is prerequisite to understand the text presented. Consider that there is a relationship between background knowledge and command of the language: a good command of the language will free the student to rely on pre-existing knowledge of the topic to understand an oral message.
Remember that if you ask your students to listen to a text whose context is unknown for them, they will struggle too much with the task and will end up demotivated.
5.Bring the real world to your classroom by using authentic materials. Nowadays there is plenty of listening materials that will make your lessons more lively and motivating. Use extracts of movies, TV sitcoms, songs, etc. You do not need to adapt them according to your students’ level, just control the task that they will perform with that material.
6.Do not expose your students to uncomfortable situations during listening comprehension activities. You want them to feel successful and enjoy their learning experience. Some teachers like to call on to individual students to provide the answers after a listening activity. This is not too helpful. It’s much better to ask them to compare their answers in pairs, and before listening to the text a second time, write their doubts on the blackboard. Thus, you will be doing two good things: your students will be listening again with a specific objective instead of a boring “listen again” and you will be preventing those possible frustration feelings from part of the students that did not get the right answer.

Now your turn:

What do you usually do to enhance your students’ listening skills?  How would you rate your techniques?
Let us know by dropping a few lines sharing your experience with us and our readers!

References
Source: Teaching Language in Context
Alice C. Omaggio

BIODATA:
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.


jueves, 2 de febrero de 2017

Are Your Students Bored With Reading? What to do to Change That Situation

By Flor de María Vila A.


Whenever we need to train reading text, the first thought we frequently have in mind is: “Students aren’t terribly fond of reading; I need to motivate them so that they enjoy the activity”
As good teachers, we prepare everything needed to teach our learners how to read. For instance, we prepare videos related to the topic or use different visual aids to enhance students´ participation. In most cases, our pupils get excited and become ready to welcome the passage. However, as the lesson goes on, something happens that makes the honeymoon finish before having the chance to truly enjoy it. Learners start getting bored, and a considerable amount of time has been dedicated to an apparently inactive exercise. Or maybe worse, some students finish first, while the others are still struggling with the text. Then we tend to accelerate the process because we cannot stand a “silent and inactive stage.” We have our students compare their answers either with their classmates or with the key provided by the text or even with their teacher, namely, us.
And the big question is: Does this work? Are students learning how to read? Are we teaching them how to read or just motivating them to do what they already do in their own language?
In fact, this topic needs more than one article to give a better idea of what teaching reading implies. The explanation of what this process means will help us understand why the enchantment of initial motivation does not last until the end of a reading lesson. In general terms, reading is not just the act of decoding symbols, it deals with the comprehension of the message contained in the text and to do so it is necessary that the reader negotiates the meaning between the text and his own background, experience, knowledge, as well as his objective about this activity. It is not enough to work with the well-known BDA activities (activities done before, during and after reading). The act of reading demands not only knowing the vocabulary related to the topic but also discerning how to use the different cognitive skills and strategies that will help establish permanent interaction with the text. This enduringly active communication will create an interaction back and forth which will keep the flame of joy for reading longer and stronger.
If we know how the process of reading really works, we will be able to make better use of any aid to motivate students and keep them motivated along the road. Nowadays, there are many tools that will make this part of the job easier since they provide interesting reading passages, in different levels of English, diverse lengths and dissimilar topics. Moreover, they contribute with the visual aids needed, the pertinent vocabulary explanation and some exercises that will reduce our workload. Some of them are Newsela, News in levels, Readworks, Rewordify, Commonlit, Tween tribune, Breaking news English, Guided reader, Books that grow, and Footsteps to brilliance. Each of them has a number of advantages; you just need to decide which your main objective is to choose the one that fits. Try just one of these tools and start experiencing the change in your reading lessons.
However, do not ever forget that you need more than the dancing shoes to be a dancer. 
We will see more in another article, keep in contact. 

Meanwhile, share with us your experience and together we can take off.
What do you do to keep students´ interested in reading? Do you teach any strategies to improve comprehension? 

Biographical Data
M.A. in Cognition, Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications advisory). 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, 25 de enero de 2017

Discover New Resources to Teach Students
How to Write Well in a Foreign Language
                                                
                                                          By Enrique Rojas R.

   
There is always been the feeling that teachers are not being very successful in instructing students to write properly and effectively even in their own language, let alone in a foreign one. Naturally. It did not come as a surprise when Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, after a careful study, concluded that some of the methods used in teaching writing were more effective than others. Now technology has revolutionized teaching in many ways. What does it have to offer in the instruction of foreign language writing?

One of the most important points is that technology can be the magic wand to turn slothful, apathetic greenhorns into eager and motivated writers. One of the reasons learners are not very willing to make the effort to produce written materials is the usefulness of the endeavor. They know that only the teacher (and then hopefully) will come in contact with the product of their work and perhaps translate it into a grade and that will be the end of it.  A very different story would be if they knew their work was going to be published and read by other people. Then they could be really proud of the work they have done.

Up to a few years ago, the only chance of giving that written work some form of life was posting it on a bulletin board within the classroom or, in the best of cases, on the hallway, where it could be seen –and perhaps read— by other students. Now, with technology the possibilities of having those pieces of writing published for other people to read are very real. Now writing can be done for a reason, to serve a real purpose, to express opinions, to communicate an issue, to draw attention to a particular concern.

One way to do that is through a school website or blog. Also there are sights that offer different options. For instance Google Drive and Zoho Writer allows the teacher to turn a writing assignment into a webpage and Yudu and Issuu lets convert them into a newsletter or e-book.

There are also programs that teach students how to write and aid teachers in the arduous task of grading papers. TeachThought, an international organization and platform that seeks to support the implementation of innovative learning, advises us: “Increasingly complex and comprehensive programs are available to help students fix errors in their writing, and can offer feedback during the writing process, when it matters most… While programs like these are still evolving, they will undoubtedly become a go-to tool to help educators teach students writing in the coming decades.” An additional advantage is that students can take advantage of the feedback to make changes before handing in a paper, thus gaining in guidance and sense of achievement. Countless people learn all kinds of things through tutorials and there are also many to help students learn grammar in an easier way. Grammar is the basis for good writing. And new software is coming out that can help students as they write, “addressing grammar issues as they happen.” Another type of software can help teachers to keep an eye on students’ progress, or lack of it.

Perhaps better known is Google Drive, a file storage and synchronization service created by Google, which permits students to work together on a project or to provide each other feedback that can be exceedingly beneficial in the writing process. Another point is that students may learn to write fluently using a keyboard instead of pen and paper, which is what they will probably have to do often in their professional lives. Teachers can find themselves many other ways to use technology to enhance their teaching writing and make it into a much more agreeable task for the learners.

References
10 Ideas For Using Technology To Teach Writing. teachthought. http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/10-ideas-for-using-technology-to-teach-writing/ Retrieved Jan 23, 2017.

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA
Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a M.A. in Journalism and a MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an M.A. in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and B.A. 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 18 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.