Category: English Language Training

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadTopics

Assessment: Show What You Know!

By Dr. Ken Beatty, Anaheim University

“I read through the whole textbook and found a word that was only used once. I was sure the students wouldn’t know it!” Lillian, a teacher trainer in Peru, was explaining her conversation with a teacher who had written a test for his English students.

“But,” Lillian asked, “Why would you choose to test the students on something you thought they wouldn’t know?”

The teacher did not have a right answer; it showed his lack of understanding of the principles of assessment and went against Swain’s (1984) principle of bias for best: “Do everything possible to elicit the learners’ best performance” (p. 195). The teacher thought, as too many teachers do that the purpose of assessment is to trick students or to cheat them out of marks. The teacher didn’t understand that an evaluation was meant to give students an opportunity to show what they know. Race, Brown & Smith (2005) suggest that the consequences of inadequate assessment are serious:

Nothing we do to or for our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give. The results influence students for the rest of their lives and careers–fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong. (p. xi)

Every assessment needs to consider what Brown (1996) explains as construct validity, “The degree to which a test measures what it claims, or purports to be measuring” (p. 231). In the case of the teacher posing the difficult vocabulary item, the test should instead have been a chance to students to use high-frequency vocabulary that they had studied as key part of his class. Assessing that vocabulary would demonstrate that the teaching was effective and that the students were able to acquire the language in an efficient way.

If the students were not able to identify and use the target vocabulary, then it would not be a question of whether or not they had worked hard enough. The teacher should also reflect whether his teaching strategies were weak. These include motivation for students to want to learn, understand, and use new vocabulary items and strategies that make vocabulary more memorable.

Imagine students had instead been directed to study 100 new and useful vocabulary items as part of the course. What would be a sensible way to assess their comprehension? Teachers often choose multiple-choice tests for the simple reason that they are easy to mark. However,  multiple-choice questions are not authentic language experiences. After all, how often does someone stop another on the street to ask a question, giving the correct answer and three or four choices clever distractors?

A more authentic approach would be to ask students to use each word in a sentence. However, this may also be unsatisfactory as the sentences may do little to show the students’ comprehension. For example, by knowing that a word is a noun (e.g., car, cat, cup), a student may write, “I bought a ________ at the store.” In such cases, a teacher cannot be sure whether the student understood the word other than knowing it is some physical object.

A better approach is to mirror how people use language in the real world. People often forget a key word and find synonyms or circumlocutions (round-about ways of explaining things) to get their meaning across. If someone is going to work on a farm, he might want to ask for a shovel but, forgetting the word a moment, substitute the synonym spade. Alternatively, as a circumlocution, he might say, “I need something to dig with.”

Hopefully, the 100 vocabulary words the teacher is assessing are not random, but rather part of a semantic field (see Moore, Donelson, Eggleston & Bohnemeyer, 2015; Evans, 2011). A semantic field ties together groups of words because they have something in common. For example, they might focus on a particular part of speech, like adverbs or prepositions, or be used in particular contexts, such as a courtroom, or deal with a particular subject, such as farming.

If the vocabulary is bound together in a semantic set, using the principle of showing what you know should give students the opportunity to use the vocabulary in context. For example, “You and your partner are planning to start an organic coffee farm. Discuss the what you will need to start and write a list of the ten most important things, defining and explaining each one.”

This approach likely sounds complicated, and it is! A multiple-choice test would be far easier, but this type of assessment task accomplishes much more:

  1. It is a learning task, not just an assessment task. Having students work together creates opportunities for peer teaching. Students have the chance to learn or re-learn the target vocabulary and grammatical structures.
  2. Students negotiate meaning (clarify what they and others are saying) and scaffold their learning, (build on each other’s ideas). In these ways, they likely expand their vocabulary beyond that which is part of the task.
  3. The task allows students to use all their language resources, just as they would in the real world. For example, beyond using synonyms and circumlocutions, they can also use body language, facial expressions, and even draw to make their point. Communication is the goal, not memorization.
  4. There is an increase in motivation because students see that there is a real-world application to the type of task. They can imagine themselves in such a scenario or a similar scenario, e.g., starting a business.

A related concern is how–or whether–such an assessment should be marked.

All assessments require some kind of feedback, but that feedback can be either formative or summative. The purpose of formative assessment is to give students feedback to help them improve. Typically, this involves giving a student a test and then the answers–but not collecting marks. Instead, the students are made aware of what they do and do not know and are hopefully motivated to improve.

This shifts responsibility to the students to make them understand where they need help and further study. Alternatively, summative assessment is about making decisions about whether students are able to proceed to the next level. That might mean the next course, or graduation, or professional certification.

Summative assessments are essential, but if we only give them without formative opportunities for students to improve, then classrooms quickly become places where students see themselves as “good” or “bad” at learning English, rather than as a place where they can hope to make progress toward their language learning goals.

Returning to the question of how more unstructured assessments should be marked, there are several options. The first and simplest is to ask students to reflect on their performance on such a task. Having them ask themselves questions such as “Did I demonstrate that I understood the key vocabulary?” and “Where do I need to improve?” is another strategy to make them more responsible for their own learning.

For students who need more direction and support, another option is to provide rubrics in the form of a grid that shows the teacher’s expectations in a range of areas. Besides vocabulary, these might include the use of grammar, sentence complexity, pronunciation, and other factors. With such rubrics, it is important for students to be aware of them before they begin the task, so they know where to focus their attention. To engage students to a greater degree, ask their help in writing the rubric: “Class, for this task, what language concerns do you think are important for you to show what you know?” List the areas on the board and create a grid of what might be considered exceptional, good, and in need of more study. Creating such a rubric becomes a useful language-learning opportunity for the class.

At first, these approaches may seem to be more work for teachers. They may also seem to take up already-valuable classroom time. But being efficient is not the same as being effective. Simply “finishing” a chapter is not necessary if some–or even all–of the students in a class have not understood or acquired the knowledge in ways in which they can use it in the real world. Instead, in every assessment, teachers need to ask themselves the question, “How can this test help students show what they know?” It is the starting point both of helping students improve and improving one’s teaching practice.

References

Brown, J. D. (1996). Testing in language programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Evans, N. (2011). Semantic typology. In J. J. Song (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Topology, pp. 504–533. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Moore, R., Donelson, K. Eggleston, A. & Bohnemeyer, J. (2015). Semantic typology: New approaches to crosslinguistic variation in language and cognition. Linguistics Vanguard. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5cb3/1d3385930fba90647c4267e356a24478e099.pdf

Race, P., Brown, S. & Smith, B. (2005) 500 Tips on assessment. London: Routledge

Swain, M. (1984). Teaching and testing communicatively. TESL Talk 15, 1 and 2. 7-18.

English and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingMultimediaTopicsWorld View

Digital Citizenship and ELT

M.A. Maria del Carmen Gonzalez

      When teaching another language all the input, exposure, and practice that the students may get becomes priceless to their learning concerning exposure. Technology provides English language teachers with an endless source of tools and applications which can make their classes much more interactive and be engaging for learners. Instructors have the opportunity to communicate with other teachers, creating networks to share not only knowledge but also advice and tips for their classes. Such groups have formed communities where they can find everything and anything to make classes more enjoyable to students. Learners get in touch with authentic material and practice in real contexts, putting the language into use right from level one.

     Thus, language instructors have a great responsibility once they open the gate of technology inside and outside their classrooms. Teachers have to train students on how to use technology effectively regarding ethics and responsibility. They cannot teach them how to use a particular tool, but on the contrary, a whole set of required skills to discriminate information, respect authorship, and develop competencies to use any tool, page or application as students, and later on, for their professional life as well. These measures will guaranty learners to move responsibly in the digital world, with or without a teacher by their side; in other words, they will unfold digital citizenship.

     Technology opens a broad range of possibilities for students, as they can surf the web for any material, information, application or tool, as well as be a part of learning clubs or communities to exchange ideas or simply have a pen pal. Once trained into the elements of digital citizenship: literacy, access, security, etiquette, health and wellness, commerce, communications, law, rights and responsibilities, students will be protected to use technology and digital information safely, responsibly, and ethically.

     Furthermore, technology provides the creative teacher with the occasion to create their material using faster and more efficient tools, save it for further use and even sell it to other teachers in pages set up for that purpose. Teachers can download a great variety of free material for their classes, saving time and effort; moreover, lesson plans and all kinds of games and worksheets, along with another large variety of online exercises and games.

    There is no question about technology being part of our lives; the dilemma resides on the knowledge we have of its significance and effects on our existence. As teachers, we must become digital citizens, teaching by example, guiding and instructing our students on how to surf correctly on the web.

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Facing the 21st Century Education

by Erick Mariano Izaguirre

“Why do I need to study this? What for do I need to know this? How is this going to help me in the future?” Do these questions sound familiar to you? If you are a teacher, you must have heard these questions dozens of times. Decontextualized new content usually leads students to this uncomfortable query.

Director and writer Spencer Cathcart, known for The Lie We Live (2015) claims: “We discover the world through a textbook. For years we sit and regurgitate what we’re told. Tested and graded like subjects in a lab. Raised not to make a difference in this world, raised to be no different. Smart enough to do our job but not to question why we do it.” His words seem to make much more sense now that the concept of “21st-century skills” is catching on.

Nowadays an increasing number of business people, politicians, and educators are sold to the idea that the new generations of students need the provision of “21st-century skills” to be able to succeed in our fast-evolving reality. Today we are experiencing such an incredible amount of changes that what students learn at schools is obsolete in a couple of years.  The reason why teaching students competencies instead of content has become much more urgent now than any time before.

An article published by The Glossary of Education Reform in the year 2014 suggests that “21st-century skills can be applied in all academic subject areas, and in all educational, career, and civic settings throughout a student’s life.” It is of high relevance to highlight that some of the most common characteristics considered as 21st-century skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving, have been neglected for many years in our educational systems. Some claim this has been the result of deficient assessment tools since we have been immersed in evaluation methods that force students to learn the necessary content to pass an exam, thus leaving aside the sole purpose of education, learning for life.

In addition to critical thinking and problem solving, there is an extensive list of characteristics that companies around the world and the planet itself demand from every single citizen. Civic, ethical, and social justice literacy as well as, global awareness, multicultural literacy, humanitarianism, ecosystems understanding, and environmental and conservation literacy are just some of the skills we have not been able to master yet due to their lack of economic productivity. It is well-known that education systems will respond to the needs of those who fund them, especially now that education is a private and very lucrative business. However, understanding the extent of the situation is just the beginning. Now the big challenge is to come up with a way to tackle the problem we face in our educational systems.

Those who concern the most about this education crisis seem to be, as mentioned before, governments and large enterprises. But why has this become an issue in these times specifically? If education has always responded to the economic needs and productivity, and students have been trained to do their future jobs well, then we should wonder: Are they simply being taught how to earn a living, or how to live as well? It is evident that the economic needs grew much faster than our awareness on topics such as social justice, global issues, and humanitarianism.

Finland, for example, pursuits to become the first country in the world to get rid of all school subjects. The Finnish education system is considered one of the best in the world. It is common to always appear in the top ten rating. According to an article published by Bright side in November 2016, “Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format.” The purpose of this is to empower students in making decisions about what phenomenon they want to learn more in detail about depending on their future professional interests. The suggested changes also contemplate the end of the old-fashioned way of teaching in which students just sit behind school desks waiting to be asked a question by the teacher and answering based on the content of a particular textbook or material.  All this will surely provide society with a new generation of professionals who do not only know how to do the jobs they are hired for, but also can be active participants and decision makers in a world of ever accelerated transformations.

Once we become aware of the whole picture of how the economic, political, and educational system is intertwined and understand that the 21st century and the planet need more active participants rather than just followers, we will also be able to change the way we teach and learn. The actions we take after this will hopefully contribute to not having more students wondering what for they have to learn something.

 

Abbot, S., editor. “21st Century Skills Definition.” The Glossary of Education Reform, 25 Aug. 2016, edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/.

The Lie We Live:  Information Clearing House – ICH.”  The Lie We Live:  Information Clearing House – ICH, Information Clearing House, 3 Mar. 2016, www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44357.htm.

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Words beyond Rote Learning

By Yara Torrez

Without words, there is no communication. One of the primary objectives of a language learner is and should be to increase their vocabulary, but how? The teacher plays a vital role in this matter. There is a wide array of activities instructors can carry out to teach new words.

In our classes, often we listen to our students deliver effective presentations and use vocabulary they never use when they are participating in class discussions, or worse, words not even us, teachers, make use. On one occasion, one of my students used too many sophisticated words, so I decided to take notes to ask him about their meanings after the presentation. As expected, the student did not know what they meant. That only confirmed that the student had memorized all the information without really knowing what it was all about or what he was saying. Unfortunately, memorization is what most language learners’ turn to when they lack the vocabulary to talk about certain topics. This strategy is called rote learning.

According to the dictionary. Cambridge, rote learning is “learning something to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than to understand it.” Through rote learning there is no assimilation of the new information, for the learner does not make connections between what they already know and the new information; therefore, their learning is not meaningful. The students only parrot back instead of using their words.

It is worth mentioning that words are the key element of a language .and that they carry the message a speaker wants to convey. So, how can teachers help language students increase their lexicon and enable them to express their thoughts and ideas spontaneously? It might not seem easy. However, there are many practical tasks instructors can assign in and outside the classroom such as watching news and videos in English with close captions, listening to songs in English and analyzing the lyrics, recycling by using the newly acquired words in different contexts, and the like. Another surefire activity is reading. It has been proven that “reading increases [one’s] vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching” (“8 Benefits of Reading”). When we read we are somehow forced to look at the words that are new or strange to us, and either we try to guess their meaning from context, or we look them up in a dictionary. Also, reading gives us the chance to see the use of words in different contexts. The trick lies in the fact that certain words are likely to crop up again and again either in the same or other texts, so that makes our brain learn the new words and we start incorporating them in our lexicon unconsciously.

Nonetheless, reading might seem daunting to use in class because most students believe it is dull and passive. However, if instructors try to vary the way the students read, it might be the opposite -fun and active. Something important to bear in mind when we carry out activities in the classroom is the sequence they should follow to be efficient and produce the results we expect. Most in-class assignments should have at least three stages: pre, while, and post activities all of which play vital roles.  When assigning reading, for instance, the pre-reading activities prepare the learners by “activating relevant schemata and motivating them to read“(“Reading Activities”). There are countless ways to introduce the skill of reading like making predictions through pictures, showing short videos, or using the title of the reading itself, having the students say what they know or would like to know about the topic. Also, introducing words they will encounter in the reading, asking them to do research about the topic to discuss it with their classmates, presenting an interesting passage from the reading and promoting discussion, etc.

The second stage is the while, which is the essential task. Like the pre-reading activities, there are varied forms of engaging the students in the reading. A collaborative function is the literature circle, which involves getting the learners to work together in small groups. Each student in each cluster is assigned a role. They all should read the text thoroughly but should perform different tasks. The reading can be homework, or it can classwork depending on how long the article is since different resources can be used such as whole books, only one or some chapters in a book, readings from the textbook, newspaper articles, online readings, magazine articles, etc.

Another reading activity that can turn out to be fun is jigsaw reading. In here, the article is divided in sections; that is, the students receive different parts of the reading. They should work in small groups, and each team receives one part of the reading.  All reading sections should be enumerated. After they read their parts, students form new groups with members from different groups. They should retell the part they read following the correct order of the story. A variation of jigsaw reading is to make a puzzle with the reading. This is usually done with short articles because the reading should be printed out and cut into different shapes. Similarly, the learners work in small groups. Each member of the group receives different comprehension questions. So, to answer their questions, they should solve the puzzle. In other words, they must put all the parts together to read the complete text. The last suggested reading activity is reading and running. It is a contest that involves movement. The students work in pairs (A and B). Each pair receives two different sets of comprehension questions, words to which they should find synonyms or definitions to which they should find the concept. The reading is printed out and stuck outside the classroom. One of the students remains sitting while the other runs to find the answers to their questions or words. The students take turns to complete their respective task. The winner is the pair of students that finishes first. Altogether, these activities help to make reading more entertaining and dynamic.

As stated before, reading as any other classroom activity should have a follow-up. Again, many implemented post-reading tasks help the student make use of the vocabulary learned. Some examples are plays, debates, class discussions, role plays, oral presentations, creative writing, etc.

To sum up, reading is an activity that can be exploited to help language learners increase their vocabulary and consequently achieve fluency. Ideally, by carrying out activities like the ones mentioned above, the students might develop the reading habit and become independent learners.

Works Cited

“8 Benefits of Reading (or Ways Reading Makes You Better at Life).” LifeDev. 17 Dec. 2014. Accessed 12, Oct. 2016. http://lifedev.net/2009/06/reading-makes-you-better/

“Examples of pre-reading activities.” Englishpost.org. 31 Jan. 2013. Accessed 12 Oct. 2016. https://englishpost.org/2013/01/31/examples-of-pre-reading-activities/

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadQuick Tips

Blended Learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom

Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett

Macmillan Publishers Limited

Oxford, England

 

Review

Blended Learning introduces teachers into the use of technology inside and outside the classroom. Though there is no doubt about the role of technology in our classrooms, it is rather a challenging task to search, combine, and take advantage of all the variety of tools and materials that one may find on the web. Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett have managed to put together a guide where they present different items of technology to be used in a language class. Their objective is to provide instructors with all the advantages of the tools, present possible problems and solutions that may come in handy, and examples of the way to enhance your classes, as they include a few model lessons plans for different levels of expertise.

If you are looking forward to introducing technology into your EFL classrooms and do not know where to get started, this book will take you by the hand on how to promote your classroom into the 21st century, engaging your students in different and diverse ways of learning.

  • It provides basic information for new technology users, though it also includes helpful websites for more advanced users too.
  • The book not only presents new technological tools, but also directions for the creation of new material.
  • It contains two appendices for beginners with detailed guidance for the use of Internet and the World Wide Web.

Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language Training

Fostering Creativity in the EFL Classroom

Albert Einstein said that creativity is intelligence having fun, thus the essential meaning of creativity entails the concept of producing something new, innovative, unique, and original, as much as it is related to flexibility, adaptability, and versatility. Creativity has been defined as an ability to generate new things (Gomez, 2016), and bringing imagination and ideas to reality, through perceptions, connections and skills (Naiman, 2016). Mr. Martinez del Rio, the editor from “Tiempo de Estrategia”, states that “to be creative, you have to be wild, complex, let out your intuition, forget logic and think that there is not only one answer to every problem but many” (Gomez, 2016).

However, what is the role of creativity in the EFL classroom? Well, the development of the 21st century has brought us, teachers, new concepts, ideas, resources, tools, and sets to promote the learning process, all of which are intended to significantly improve the learning experience. Such development brings along new demands and expectations for students as well which include the acquisition, generation, cultivation, and refinement, in some cases, of specific skills that will positively prepare them for a prosperous and competitive future. Among a few of these skills, we can mention communication, teamwork and collaboration, creativity, investigation, creative and critical thinking, digital citizenship, and technology knowledge.

As educators, it is our responsibility to promote these skills among our students as we teach English, and it is not that challenging since learning another language requires practicing and exercising communicative and social skills. Combining teamwork, analysis and critical thinking, creativity and innovation, sharing ideas and solving problems could only result in the best opportunity for our language learners to succeed at both, language and professional development.

Once the relevance of creativity is realized, there are some stereotypes to work on. Many think that creativity is just an ability a few gifted people have, that is only required for the arts or it is a trait of your personality. Catherine Courage states that “creativity is a birthright, available to all, but used by few” (TEDxtalks, 2012). Moreover, creativity is only a muscle that needs to be exercised and strengthened. By setting the right environment and starting training from the classrooms, we can direct our students to endless ways to comply a task or design a project.

“A student who can read an expository text and turn it into an engaging, listener-friendly podcast can surely identify the author’s ideas, key details, and supporting information. And in putting the information together in her own way, in creating something unique and sharing it with the world, she has learned something new, grown as a person, and possibly inspired others. In which case, your English class has all the bases covered…” Amanda Ronan, 2015

References

Amanda Ronan. “5 Ways to Keep Creativity Alive in English Class.” Edudemic. Edudemic, 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Gómez, Katyana. “Esta Habilidad Te Ayudará a Ser Más Productivo (Parte 1).” Dinero En Imagen.com. Excelsior, 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

@mikepa75. “A Student’s Path to Succeed in the 21st Century – Inspire EduTech -Educational Technology. Blended Learning. Education Development Rural Schools.” Inspire EduTech Educational Technology Blended Learning Education Development Rural Schools. Inspire Edu Tech, 28 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Naiman, Linda. “What Is Creativity? | Creativity at Work.” Creativity at Work. Linda Naiman Blog, 27 May 2016. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

TEDxTalks. “Igniting Creativity to Transform Corporate Culture: Catherine Courage at TEDxKyoto 2012.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

Reaping the value of GSE and the GSE Teacher Toolkit

May 25, 2016

Updated 7 July, 2016

My goal as a classroom teacher is to do the best I can to make sure my content is meeting the needs of my learners. After fifteen years of teaching English, I know one thing to be very true: Every single group of learners I work with is different and will require different things from me. One semester I could have a group of students who have strong communicative fluency but are weak in complex critical thinking and contextual analysis of lectures and reading passages. The next semester I may have students who can easily ace a grammar, listening and reading test but struggle to speak in full sentences or respond outside of scripted conversation. This is the frustration and joy of teaching English: The classroom is a dynamic living space that supports the development of unique individuals with unique needs. But how do you know what’s truly working for your learners?

While observation is a valuable resource for assessing student skills, it is really tests, quizzes and tasks that provide enough evidence to understand a learner’s current abilities, strengths and weaknesses. So in any classroom, whether I’m following along with a textbook or creating a custom course, at some point, I need to stop and assess what is working for my learners so I can respond to their needs. Having a solid understanding of the level of ability of learners to perform with specific skills can help me target my teaching to utilize learner strengths to help build skills where learners are weak. This is where tools like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the Global Scale of English (GSE) become extremely useful.

How the granularity of the GSE is a valuable resource

Both the CEFR and GSE are tools that help communicate a learner’s ability to perform. For teachers and administrators, these tools are useful because of the external validation of performance indicators. I myself have spent countless hours creating lesson plans and objectives and wondering “Is this challenging enough?” or “Is this going to be too difficult?” Often, the arbitrator is running the lesson in class and observing the results: successful learning or Hindenburg-level disaster. I found the CEFR useful as a way to quickly gauge whether or not an activity was addressing specific skills that other learners at the same level could perform. The Global Scale of English goes further by drilling down more explicitly into the skills. Where the CEFR is more of a general collection, the GSE provides more granular insight into the explicit skills and functions learners can build to become more proficient in their skills. It’s like the difference between driving from X to Y with or without turn-by-turn directions.

The Global Scale of English starts with the CEFR and builds out 1,000+ descriptors of performance across all four skills. This provides better distribution of the language skills and supports the usefulness of the CEFR to describe learning performance. A word of caution: The descriptors are not designed to be prescriptive about the learning journey! Like the CEFR, the GSE is not an all-or-nothing collection of descriptors indicating that “in order to learn D, you must first learn A, B and C—AND in that order.” Anyone who knows anything about language education can easily see the problems inherent in that kind of thinking. That’s because each learner has unique needs and learning does not occur in a straight line.

So, it is its granular nature that makes the GSE such a valuable resource. As an educator, I feel quite confident in my teacher’s intuition and my ability to use reflective practice to observe what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. I can be creative and know when to use practice activities and assessments that come with my courses. I also know when I need to add activities and create content that will engage my learners and perhaps add a challenge that is meaningful, but that my course book does not contain. In the past, I would build that content based on my knowledge as a teacher and my knowledge of my students and use the course materials and future assessments as a general guide for their level. When planning I might also consult with other teachers and colleagues in the field as a way of brainstorming ideas and validating whether the content I’m creating is at the right level for my learners. But sometimes, I wonder if I’m making the best decisions. Are my lessons and content truly built for the skills and needs of my students? Enter the GSE Teacher Toolkit: an interactive resource with all the GSE descriptors.

Remember how we have 1,000+ descriptors for the GSE? Well, the GSE toolkit allows a teacher to drill down into all the descriptors quickly and easily to look for specific skills and to determine the level of challenge those skills will present learners. For me, there are three distinct ways to use the toolkit that will benefit English teachers:

The toolkit helps teachers access the GSE as a tool to validate institutional student learning objectives (SLOs)

As a model of descriptors of performance useful for creating rubrics and assessment tools

As an inspiration for interesting and unique content that will engage and excite learners

Of the three pieces, the last is the most useful starting point. Why? Let me give you an example.

The GSE Teacher Toolkit as an inspiration for content

For this example, I’m going to step into some very familiar shoes, those of a language teacher at a local college. My goal is to quickly improve my learners’ levels of ability in English to move students into an engineering class (a great example of teaching English for specific purposes). My coursebook has several strong reading passages and does a great job of building the reading skills with a focus on understanding words from context and using textual analysis to answer questions and describe the process of answering. I provide some authentic content and follow the same skill-building techniques that are outlined in my coursebook, as this is what my student are learning. The students work well, meet the expectations of the course and are working towards the learning objectives. Even with all this work and progress, at the start of the second semester I see many of the same faces in my classroom when I was expecting them to move to a higher course. I have to ask myself, What’s missing?

This is where the toolkit first became an eye-opening resource for me. When I searched the skills I was developing with my learners, all appropriate reading skills, all encapsulated in my SLOs (skimming, scanning, comprehension and basic inferencing), I found that I was teaching right at the level of ability of my B1 learners. The toolkit shows the skills at the B1 level and also at the B1+ level and the B2 level. As I started reading through descriptors of performance, I realized there were some higher-level skills that I had never explored in the classroom with my students, challenges my students were not being prepared for. Suddenly, by looking away from “where my students are now” to “where I’d like my students to be,” I was overwhelmed with ideas for content I could build to supplement my course book.

The GSE provided a new strategy for planning. My course book can cover the basic work and I’m free to generate interesting ideas for classroom activities that will really challenge my learners. Even though the group I’m working with is at a B1 level, I planned a B2-level activity around a GSE descriptor. At the B1 reading level, my students would read and process information from a problem-solution essay. My course book provides several good examples and structured activities to build the skill, reducing the work I have to do.  Now, for the challenge. I selected the following B2-level skill from the GSE toolkit:

Can critically evaluate the effectiveness of a simple problem-solution essay (GSE 61, B2 (59–66)).

This will allow the class to go beyond the surface application of the skill. For the activity, I selected a piece of authentic content, an op-ed piece from the newspaper, a great example of someone explaining a problem and presenting their argument for the best solution. The lesson plan practically wrote itself.

SLO: Students will be able to read and critically evaluate the effectiveness of a simple problem-solution essay from the opinion section of the newspaper.

SLO2: Students will describe which supporting details were most effective to support the author’s solution.

Steps

1) Read and review several shorter structured problem-solutions essays in the course book. Have students skim, scan and read to answer the specific question. Have students identify where the answer is indicated in the text and note why the answer is most appropriate.

2) Solo: Introduce seven selected vocabulary items from the op-ed piece and review.

3) Provide a gist question: Read the title. What solution do you think the author will provide to address the problem? Elicit predictions to check after the reading.

4) Have students skim. Check predictions.

5) Provide a set of comprehension questions. Have students scan and answer questions. Check answers in groups. In groups, have students discuss how they found the answer and why the text indicates this is correct. Check as a class.

6) B2 Skills: Evaluate the Effectiveness—Have students individually answer if they agree or disagree with the author’s solution. Students describe answers and why. Allow time for students to develop answers. In groups, have students share their ideas.

7) Building from the previous: In groups, have students discuss what aspects of the author’s solution were most effective. Have students list what additional details or examples could be provided to help others agree with the solution. Share ideas as a class.

8) In class [if time permits] or homework: Have students find an article, column piece or reading passage that provides an example of a problem solution that effectively swayed the student to agree with the solution for review in the next class.

The toolkit enables me as a teacher to be creative and provides additional validation that I’m working to challenge my learners appropriately. Steps 6 through 8 of my lesson will stretch my learners and, most importantly, help to provide skills that will hopefully see them transition out of my class and into general courses without the need to come back to me again. Being able to conveniently sort through and see descriptors specifically aligned to skills, area of study (professional, academic or general) and level of ability makes the tool particularly useful. No longer do I need to try to comb through and break down the very chunked description of performance in the CEFR to make it manageable and relevant for my learners. Additionally, I don’t have to search by reading through thousands of descriptors. In a few seconds, I can free my teacher planning brain to find new, fun and appropriate ways to challenge myself and learners to do new things together, proving that I am meeting my primary goal as a teacher, which is to support my students’ learning and support them towards success at their level and beyond.

With the new GSE toolkit, I feel as if I have just expanded my ability to discuss potential activities, assess skills and sense check the challenge of my activities with my peers across the world. The GSE certainly won’t replace my particular teacher “Spidey” sense or that of some of my best friends and colleagues in the field, but it certainly opens up a whole new world to what is possible in the classroom.

Reference

Davila, Sara. “Reaping the Value of GSE and the GSE Teacher Toolkit.”Pearson English. N.p., 25 May 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

How to use the GSE to enhance and improve English assessments

July 6, 2016

The Global Scale of English has been a great support and a positive change for my practice. As I previously discussed, the GSE can be used in a variety of ways, but my three favourite uses are as a tool for validating my students’ learning objectives, as a tool to enhance and improve my assessments, and, finally, as a tool to create content. In this discussion, I’d like to look at how you can use the GSE and the Teacher Toolkit to create custom rubrics and also explore the potential of the GSE Assessment Framework for teachers. First up, a refresher on rubrics (please skip to the section titled “Using the Global Scale of English to create English learning rubrics” if you’re already familiar with the concept).

What’s a rubric?

If you aren’t familiar with it, a rubric is a tool that we can use to assess learning performance. A rubric can be used with any skill and with any kind of learning content. A rubric does this by providing descriptors of performance at different levels. Rubrics provide a clear roadmap for what performance is expected at a higher level of achievement. It’s the difference between saying “do better” and saying “Right now you are working at this level and if you concentrate on these skills you will see yourself working at the next level.” A rubric provides a clear indication of what needs to be improved in order for a learner to excel.

The great thing about rubrics comes from their clarity and consistency in assessing performance. A solid rubric helps me look at the specific performance of any given student and capture the information I need to know about the level at which that student currently is while providing feedback that is both summative and formative. The downside of rubrics is the challenge of creating a solid assessment rubric, one that provides a good formative roadmap, while also being reliable as a summative assessment. With practice, trial and error, anyone can create a good rubric. However, practical tools can help save a lot of time and frustration for administrators, teachers and learners.

Most of the rubrics used in the classroom look like this basic example of a rubric used to assess speaking performance:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Speaking Short sentences with some mistakes. Longer, compound sentences with few mistakes. Long, compound sentences. Able to expand on ideas with few mistakes. Long, compound sentences, clearly organized. Able to expand on ideas and clarify concepts with few mistakes.

You will notice that there is no specific context for the speaking component in this rubric example. Depending on how a rubric will be used, you may want a very granular rubric tied directly to the context and content of learning, or you may want a rubric that can be used for a broader assessment. My example rubric could be used as part of an end-of-semester performance assessment, whereas a more granular rubric would be useful as an end-of-unit assessment or even a units-review assessment where I am looking at performance with specific content.

This rubric contains three specific parts: the scale, the performance to assess and the descriptors of performance. The scales for a rubric can vary across the globe; some teachers will use 1–5, some will use Poor to Excellent. When it comes to selecting the scale, use what will work best in your learning environment and help them communicate the rubric to others in the field, to your students and to your administrators. My personal preference is for a scale that indicates the current level of performance, without implied judgement. Once you have your scale in place, you want to figure out what you will be assessing. This will be largely driven by your course. What are you teaching? What performance do you need to assess? Performance of the skill is key.

For example, if you are teaching a grammar-focused class, you would not develop a rubric to assess the students’ grammar knowledge. It’s much easier to use a more traditional test to check for knowledge of rules. However, if you want to see how well a learner is correctly transferring the grammar they are learning into conversation, a rubric can provide direction. Such a rubric might look like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Answer questions about the past and future Answers in simple sentences. Frequently mismatches verb tenses. Easily answers in simple sentences. Uses a few complex sentences. Mismatches verb tenses a little. Does not monitor or correct mistakes. Easily answers in simple and complex sentences. Makes few mistakes with verb tenses. Occasionally able to monitor and correct some mistakes. Easily answers in simple and complex sentences. Elaborates on answers without prompts. Consistent use of verb tenses with few noticeable mistakes. Demonstrates ability to monitor and correct when an error is made.

The final stage of your rubric construction will be the descriptors. The descriptors define what it is you will observe when students are performing. In a speaking assessment, you would be listening to students speaking in a conversation. In a writing assessment, you would look at the organization and cohesion of the students’ writing. The descriptors, then, describe the performance you would expect, aligned to your scale. The descriptors provide information that helps to clearly distinguish between each performance type. Using our writing example, you might have something like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Presents personal information and details with little organization. Presents personal information with details. Selection of some details is clear. Presents personal information with supporting details. Details are clearly aligned to the information and arranged in logical order. Presents personal information with supporting details. Details are clearly aligned and organized. Specific examples clarify connections.

As you can see, a rubric builds from the bottom and works upwards. This way I can tell a student who Needs Development what they specifically need to work on in order to get to consistent, proficient and masterful use. This is something that can be planned for, and over the course of a semester, we can revisit this and see how their performance is improving and what next steps to take. A rubric helps to provide that kind of clarity. The greatest challenge in creating a rubric is usually in developing the descriptors of performance. What do I need to describe so I can both observe performance and define what the next level looks like?

Using the Global Scale of English to create English learning rubrics

A rubric is a pretty basic tool that a teacher uses to assess performance … but where does the GSE fit into all of this? For me, the most obvious place is in helping to define performance and create descriptors. As the GSE largely describes the use and application around the four English skills  without providing a specific context. This makes it a great place to start for understanding the performance I want to see in my classroom. Rather than the coursebook deciding, or my using my general sense of performance, the GSE gives me a clear indication of the difference in performance at different points along a learner’s learning journey aligned to a specific stops along the CEFR scale. Using the GSE, I could redraft my writing rubric so it would look like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Can give personal details in a written form in a limited way.

(GSE 31/A2)

Can write a brief summary of their personal details.

(GSE 40/A2+)

Can write about personal interests in some detail.

(GSE 47/B1)

Can write about feelings and personal significance of experience in detail.

(GSE 67/B2+)

From the perspective of a teacher, this gives me a good starting point to add further details to my rubric that would allow me to further align with my curriculum and the learning outcomes defined by my institution. This might look something like this:

Performance Being Assess Measurement Scale
Needs Development Consistently Used Proficiently Used Mastery
Personal paragraphs Can give personal details in a written form in a limited way.

 

 

(GSE 31/A2)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write a brief summary of their personal details.

 

 

 

(GSE 40/A2+)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write about personal interests in some detail.

 

 

 

(GSE 47/B1)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Can write about feelings and personal significance of experience in detail.

 

(GSE 67/B2+)

 

Course Context: Past Experiences, Future Interests

Using the GSE, I can also see the progression of skill development and get a sense of how long it will take for learners to improve their performance[1]. Knowing that the difference between Needs Development and Consistent Use is a move from A2 to A2+, I might expect that a student starting at the bottom will get to Consistent Use by the end of a semester. If I have a learner starting at Consistent Use, my goal would be Proficient Use, and Mastery would be a stretch goal. A rubric using the GSE not only helps me get a solid description of the skill performance, but it can also improve my expectations of what learners will achieve based on the length of my course and the number of hours of input and study that will be accessed.

The GSE Assessment Framework

Of course, all of this is a lot of work, so imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the Global Scale of English team had developed a set of agnostic course rubrics that describe performance, contain descriptors, are aligned to the CEFR, cover all four skills and, most importantly, are available for teachers to download.

123

Download the full set of rubrics in the GSE Assessment Framework here: http://bit.ly/29t7RAO

The GSE Assessment Framework would not replace all of my classroom rubrics nor stop me from developing rubrics in the future, but it does provide a nice functional rubric that I can use to assess all manner of performance tasks in my classroom using a tool that is externally validated. That end-of-the-semester speaking test would be a perfect test case for the use of the GSE Assessment Speaking Framework rubric. A mid-term writing assignment could be assessed using an internal rubric with the GSE Assessment for Writing Framework for a secondary reference.

Additionally, the frameworks could be handed out to students at the beginning of the semester and used as a way to help students with personal goal setting. As many of my students have test scores that report aligned to the CEFR, it is a simple matter of having students use the GSE Assessment Framework to see how their current level is described and have them look towards the future to make a personal learning plan to continue to improve their English skills and concentrate on problem areas. The Global Scale of English Assessment Framework doesn’t replace all of my assessment tools, but it certainly becomes another time-saving feature to add to my assessment grab bag.

Having access to something as value packed as the Global Scale of English ecosystem, I realize that improving assessments is one of the first steps when it comes to the functional use of the GSE. With over 1,000 descriptors of performance and an assessment package to boot, I’m excited to think of what I can accomplish by utilising these tools and the impact this will have for me and my future students as we continue to work towards our shared goal of communicative fluency.

References

Davila, Sara. “How to Use the GSE to Enhance and Improve English Assessments.” Pearson English. N.p., 6 July 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

English Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMultimediaPodcasts

Podcast – Continuing Professional Development

In this podcast, Alejandra Mora addresses what is Continuing Professional Development; the features needed when carrying out CPD and provides alternatives of CPD teachers can do.

 

 

MAMMaria Alejandra Mora (MSc. TEFL, SPLITT, TBI, and TEFL Certified) has over 18 years of experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, academic consultant and curriculum developer and has led teacher training workshops in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Peru. She has a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and has a wide range of interests including program development and training and project work. She is currently working as program developer for the International Language Institute in Keiser University Latin American Campus.

 

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Cognitive Conflict to Foster Meaningful Learning

by Erick M. Izaguirre Zepeda, Keiser University Language Institute

Human’s search for knowledge is a lifelong process. It takes us many years to construct our own conceptions and beliefs. Many times this construction process demands a lot of studying, reading, and research. Sometimes these conceptions come from family traditions and values that are handed down from generation to generation. It is obvious that when learning something requires so much effort, this new knowledge we have acquired is of great value for us. After all we have dedicated our neurons to building ourselves a mindset we feel identified and comfortable with.  But what happens when our conceptions, beliefs, and ideas are debatable to people we consider knowledgeable and trustworthy? Are we open to listening to new and different ideas and willing to change our own ones in case we are convinced by the reliability of the new sources of information? Or do we just ignore what the new data states because we already have our own mindset?  Have you ever changed any of your conceptions or preconceptions thanks to/ because of new and extremely contradictory material that was presented to you? If you have, then you have experienced cognitive conflicts and you clearly understand what it is about and what it feels like.

Cognitive conflict

The cognitive conflict or cognitive dissonance theory is a branch of the well-known constructivist theory by Piaget. It suggests that “when children or learners experience a discrepancy between their understanding of the world and a new experience, they can either assimilate the new information into existing schema or accommodate the new information by creating new schema”. This has led some constructivist teaching approaches to focus on ways to generate this cognitive conflict in lessons.

To illustrate the concept of cognitive conflict and how it fosters the process of conceptual change and meaningful learning, I would like to tell you the story of my friend Paul. Paul was born in Puerto Cabezas and moved to the United States when he was 8 years old. He spent more than 25 years there. When in the States, he got into lots of troubles especially because of drugs consumption. He was addicted to alcohol and crack. All these problems he had led him to be deported back to Nicaragua.  Paul says that he lived so much discrimination because of his skin color, that he did not want to be black; in fact he hated being black. One day when he was still in America, soon before being deported, he had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the “Black Hebrews”, a movement which states that “Jesus was black, and Hispanics, Native Americans, and Negroes are the only real descendants of the tribes of Israel and, for instance the only ones included in God’s salvation plan”.

For many of us this new input might not make any difference, but for Paul it was a very significant new piece of information. Since that day Paul’s life has changed dramatically. Paul no longer consumes crack or alcohol and he is trying to live his life according to God’s will since this theory made him feel there was still hope for him.

Another possible way to define cognitive conflict is: “The mental discomfort produced when someone is confronted with new information that contradicts their prior beliefs, values, and ideas. When cognitive dissonance arises, the person will typically seek to reduce this discomfort either by changing their ideas or by avoiding (e.g. ignoring) the new information”.

As we can see, there are two possible consequences of the cognitive conflict. The first one is a very positive one. This is the one that helped Paul make significant changes in his life because he felt attracted to the new concept he was faced with. On the other hand, the second option is not so encouraging for those teachers who would like to implement this strategy into their classes. What type of teacher would like to run the risk of encountering students who will simply discard the new information being presented? This is completely against the real objective, isn’t it? I am pretty sure this new information about Jesus I just discussed did not and will never cause you to change your preconceptions or beliefs about Jesus. But do you think you will forget it?

I am part of the highest percentage of people who will not seek to reduce the cognitive discomfort by changing my idea about Jesus. Furthermore, it makes no difference to me what color he was. However, I am completely convinced that I will never forget about the “Black Hebrews” and what they believe.

Cognitive conflict in English teaching 

If the context in which Paul learned so meaningfully was the key to a conceptual change in his mindset, we can conclude that the same phenomenon might happen in the case of our English students. Our advantage as English teachers is that even though we usually try to teach our students values and socially acceptable behavior, changing people’s conceptions is not our main concern, but to provide them with the elements (language) to explain those of their own or other people’s. When the target grammar and vocabulary are presented through contextualized material that contradicts students’ previous beliefs and conceptions on such topic, the new information might not be assimilated enough to cause a change in their behavior, i.e. conceptual change, but the tools or instruments used, e.g. the language such as terms, vocabulary and grammar structures, will be understood and remembered. In the case of English teaching this aspect previously mentioned is the key to students’ meaningful learning, which is the goal we all pursue as teachers.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

A Word on Assessment

by Jose Luis Garcia, Keiser University Language Institute

When evaluating students’ performance in the language classroom, teachers cannot just rely on testing as the primary source of progress. A student evaluation does not occur in isolation or after grading written assignments and or quizzes. Indeed, students’ evaluations need to demonstrate their progress. In fact, from our teaching practice, we learn that testing, assessment, evaluation, and a teacher’s daily lesson observations are complementing factors.  Hence, my proposal relies on following an eclectic approach and including more than one form of assessment during any given evaluation process.

Here is my suggested approach:

To start a teaching session, consider running a diagnostic assessment or test. Find out what knowledge students bring into the classroom and identify areas of growth and learning that need reviewing and improvement. Build on formative assessment behaviors and with the obtained data, establish achievable learning goals to empower and engage students in progress.

Second, I suggest including formal and informal assessment elements. The former includes forms of summative and alternative assessment. Instructors may consider using short quizzes, class projects, and collaborative assignments. From each aspect, they should be able to obtain relevant and concrete information of the students’ progress and challenges.  This process involves students’ completing traditional forms of assessment such as homework, quizzes, and tests. However, in these forms, instructors should make a considerable effort in providing life-like issues that integrate the content and its use in meaningful tasks, for example, using integrative assessment strategies like information transfer items.

One last suggestion is including alternative assessment forms such as the use of checklists, rubrics, self-evaluation, and portfolios. Though these forms are less conventional, they provide vivid samples of a students’ growth throughout a session and how well they can  apply the class content.

An eclectic approach to assessment will provide instructors with more effective more tools to assess learners. It is reliable, valid, and tailored to the learners’ and course needs. It is also systematic for it screens performance and competence at a fair level.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language Training

What Role Do Teachers Play in the ELT classroom?

by Maria del Carmen Gonzalez, Keiser University Language Institute

Are you aware of your real role as a teacher in the ELT classroom? Nobody likes being observed or followed by fifteen pairs of eyes, but as teachers, there are times when your effectiveness relies on how skillful you are at getting your students’ attention. Regardless of all the effort and time you take to plan a class, look for the right activities, and orchestrate the whole class; it is you, and just you who your students are watching and listening to all the time.

The teacher is the most engaging element in the classroom, or at least she or he should be. There is no video, game or activity that could compare with the endless variety of input that comes from teachers. Nothing should spoil  their  performance  in front of  a group because they  wrote a  script and that class is their  platform, their  the center stage, so they should make the most of it. In other words, they should make students believe English is reachable and possible for them.

Instructors should watch their every move, be careful of every word they  pronounce because students are closely watching them . Some students are eager to hear them  and imitate  the word and sounds coming from them .

Actors study body language, simply because they know how powerful it is. They can embody a character or an emotion not only through  the dialogues but also through their body language. The way they move can also communicate more than a thousand words. In much the same manner, instructors should use their body, arms and hands meaningfully to express ideas, moods or attitudes. They should avoid talking to themselves, expressing ideas out loud or mumbling in front of their students because all they sense is intelligible words that make them anxious and aware of their lack of knowledge.

Teachers are the ones in charge of facilitating language for their learners. In fact, they should strike the right balance between using basic and advance vocabulary. Nobody said it was going to be easy, right?

Does this mean that teachers have to do all the work? Of course not! They should let their students deduct, analyze, summarize, propose, discuss, reflect, and overall, practice with the language. However, teachers have to be aware of every word, movement, and gesture they make and try to transform every single event or moment into a meaningful learning experience.

A recording from a class might become a great source of information for instructors. Through the recording they could reflect and analyze not only their language, instructions, feedback, error correction, tone, voice inflection, or rhythm but also the way they  walk and move their  bodies, arms and hands as well as the gestures and faces they  make. As Peter Akerly (2012) intelligently summarizes at the end of one of his lectures, [teachers] are being observed, [they] are the most interesting thing in the room, move and speak with intention”. Therefore, teachers should keep these ideas in mind whenever they are in front of a class if they want to attain their goals.

References
Drilling Target Structures. Dir. Peter Akerly. Perf. Peter Akerly. Youtube. N,p., 4 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 May 2016.

Business and ManagementEnglish Language Training

The Ins and Outs of Continuum Professional Development (CPD)

By James Cordonero

Were we to know what the future holds in store in our teaching careers, and were we to have foreseen all the challenges that lay ahead, there would be no need for in-service training in today’s world. This gap is where continuum professional development comes to provide instructors with opportunities to keep abreast of new and emerging trends in teaching practices and theories.

In Nicaragua, opportunities for career competency growth may not be as ubiquitous as in developed nations, but some educational institutions strive to offer workshops and other types of related meetings as part of the professional development experience, which is praiseworthy considering the many budget constraints that many schools face. Nevertheless, there is research evidence suggesting that “teacher development has moved beyond simple in-service workshops and has expanded into a more robust system of continuing education” (Quattlebaum, 2012). This trend in teachers’ competencies development is gaining new ground and having an impact on the quality standards of education worldwide.

The OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, defines professional development as a series of “activities that develop an individual’s skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a teacher” (2009). According to Hassel (1999), professional development is “the process of improving staff skills, and competencies needed to produce outstanding academic results for students” In other words, this new approach to teachers’ training proves essential in meeting today’s educational demands. But what clear goals can continuous professional advancement serve beyond pre-service training? The OECD establishes the following:

• to update individuals’ knowledge of a subject in light of recent advances in the area;
• to update individuals’ skills, attitudes and approaches in light of the development of current teaching techniques and objectives, modern circumstances and new educational research;
• to enable individuals to apply changes made to curricula or other aspects of teaching practice;
• to allow schools to develop and implement innovative strategies concerning the curriculum and other aspects of teaching practice;
• to exchange information and expertise among teachers and others, e.g. academics, industrialists; and
• to help weaker teachers become more effective in their practice

For professional development to be effective, it has to be ongoing and in-depth, include practice and feedback, and provide adequate time and follow-up support. It should not be brief and shallow as it currently happens with some of the single training sessions most instructors receive.

Since a great deal of effort in specialized training and development has been diluted in the elusive pursuit of achieving higher standards of education in many developing countries, some scholars have argued that the term “professional development” is a misnomer and that we should be thinking about “professional learning” instead. The former, meaning that teachers passively acquire knowledge intended to “influence their practice”, while the latter denotes “an internal process in which teachers create expert knowledge through interaction with colleagues and other educators in a way, that challenges previous assumptions and creates new meanings.” Hence, professional learning is what will enable instructors to overcome deeply rooted problems that call for “transformative rather than additive change to teaching practice” (Timperly, 2011).

Thus, if we want to achieve qualitative changes in our educational system, “professional learning” is what we should be aiming for. To achieve such a goal and to reach higher standards, radical changes must also take place in the scale and quality of development opportunities available to teachers. High-quality professional learning for teachers should not be the exception but the rule. Teaching should be a learning profession where schools or institutions should provide plenty of opportunities to keep their academic knowledge and practice fully up-to-date.

We are at the dawn of new era, witnessing the start of a culture change in the English teaching profession. Professional development or learning, for that matter, may not be the panacea that will solve all the pedagogical issues that arise in our respective classroom settings, but certainly it is a step in the right direction, and instructors should grasp with both hands every opportunity for professional growth whenever it comes their way.

References

Hassel, E. (1999). Professional development: Learning from the best. Oak Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL).

Quattlebaum, S. (2012). Why professional development for teachers is critical. The Evolution.New Jersey Public Schools. Retrieved from http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/why-professional-development-for-teachers-is-critical/Sheppard, B. & Dibb

OECD. (2009). Creating Effective Teaching and Learning Environments. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Timperley, H. (2011). Realizing the Power of Professional Learning. New York, NY: Open University Press.

English Language TrainingStudents' Voices

ELT Certification Sucesss Story

by Carlos Barreras

Josef Albers once said that “good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” This is a quote that very accurately describes why I enrolled in the English Language Teaching (ELT) certification program provided by Keiser University. It also describes how all the incredible capable instructors who were part of this project always encouraged every single one of us, teachers, to push ourselves to the best version of teachers we could possibly be. They did so by partnering with none other than Pearson, which is a leading institution in the language teaching field and offered  first-class resources whenever we needed them. Both institutions provided a variety of academic modules such as: Understanding Language Teaching and Learning, Factors in Language Learning and Sociocultural Factors in Language Learning, among others, that have prepared me not only academically  but also, and perhaps most importanly, integrally as a  teacher.

First of all, the organizers of the ELT program  were able to see the big picture of English learning across the world, where the number of learners of this language worldwide has reached up to 1.5 billion people. This fact enabled instructors to develop and train us taking into account not only the local aspects but also the global audience of EFL and ESL teachers. They did this by providing us with a set of interactive mul- multimedia teacher training modules that combine text, video, audio, PowerPoints, discussion, and quizzes that required our full attention and study.

Also, it is  worth mentioning that the writing assignments, such as essays, played an important role in the success of the program. These writing tasks provided an excellent opportunity for reflecion as well as personalization. Additionally, we  received personalized feedback from our instructors on these assignments, so they became an important component of each lesson that  contibuted to the in-depth analysis of such tasks. For this reason, although the essays had to be completed individually,  we always felt as if our instructor were by  our side.

Another aspect that was vital in my success throughout this program were the peer observations which were carried out along with many of the writing assignments. Peer observations were, without a doubt, an enormously valuable tool for learning about teaching and English learning in real contexts. Similarly, the focus on a variety of issues concerning English language teaching and learning about behaviorist, cognitivist and constructivist theories, among others,  has been tremendously helpful. Thus, it is fair to say that this blend of theory and practice that Keiser University along with Keiser’s International Language Institute provided us with proved to be a perfect combination to form an exceptional group of professionals.

In the academic field, Teaching English as a Second Language is a high-demand subject of instruction that continues to experience growth in schools and universities across the world. As people from foreign countries continue to immigrate to the United States and enroll in schools here, the number of students whose native language is not English continues to grow. English, as the primary spoken language in a country with a rich history of immigration and cultural diversity, English and its mastery are an important part of educational development, for which, academically speaking, this English teaching certification has prepared me for. Whatever your field of education may be, this certification meets all the standards required for different levels and contexts in which the participants might choose to work at.

As a professional myself who is currently living and teaching at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the United States, I understand firsthand the high standards of English teaching required by global education systems, students and society. This certification has, on the one hand, built on the knowledge I previously carried from my undergraduate TEFL program. On the other hand, it has proven to successfully meet international standards for which I can personally give testimony.

In terms of personal growth as a teacher, I reinforced and added the qualifications, skills as well as abilities needed to become not just a regular teacher but a well rounded one. Thus, I explored the journey of becoming an effective teacher, mantaining enthusiasm and preventing burnout, taking into account, of course, the challenges and complexities that such responsibility entails.

At some point in our lives, we all have been students and unquestionably remember some of our teachers in our professional lives. As a teacher myself, I have  asked myself questions like, how can I  become a good teacher? How can I learn useful and effective teaching techniques? How do I know my teaching is fruitful and my techniques are working? And how do I stay an enthusiastic and effective teacher throughout my career? All of these questions are not easy  to answer. In fact, I would argue that these questions require a high level of complexity due to the variety of material and teaching practices all over the world. Consequently, the incredible success of this English Teaching Certification  lies on these very specific type of questions and the professional instructors that made them.

Finally, I have to say that this certification would not have been possible without the tireless work and vast knowledge of all the professional, knowledgeable and experienced instructors that guide me throughout this journey.  I’m thankful for all the peers that shared this  incredible journey with me. Last but definitely not least, all of this work and effort is now a reality due to the vision and commitment of the president of Keiser Latin American Campus, Mr. Mathew Anderson, and the director of International Language Institute Ruffo Torres. I encourage any person who wants to be a part of this renowned certification to go ahead and  pursue it. Rest assured that this accreditation will be part of your personal and professional experience in the foreseeable future wherever you go.

English Language Training

Red Letter Event for TEFL Instructors Nationwide

As members of the editing team of the English Insider bimonthly newsletter, we would like to pass on our most sincere appreciation to all the work and effort that ANPI (Association of Nicaraguan English Teachers) and various educational institutions put into the organization of the annual Nicaraguan TESOL conference.

Because of the paramount importance of that event for English instructors nationwide, we could not afford to miss the chance to attend it neither as presenters nor as a one-member team novice reporter. Prior to publishing our third issue of our online newsletter, one of the editors, armed with a camera and a notepad, set out to cover the event to collect information relevant to the state of affairs in English teaching in Nicaragua and gather opinions from several participants.

The Minister of Education, Miguel de Castilla, reiterated the valuable contribution the conference makes to the improvement of English teaching in our country and the pivotal role that the English language plays in modern society. In his speech given in the opening ceremony, he stated that “English is an essential tool to learn how to learn…and to continue learning beyond the traditional classrooms.”

The following viewpoints expressed by some of the attendees can also attest to the significance the NICATESOL conference has for most TEFL instructors in terms of enhancing their pedagogical skills, improving their English, and growing professionally.

What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the NICATESOL conference?