Category: Learning and Skills Development

Business and ManagementLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopicsWorld View

Benefits of studying a technical career

By Maricarmen Gonzalez and Erick Izaguirre

The Business Dictionary defines a professional as a “Person formally certified by a professional body or belonging to a particular profession by having completed a required course of studies and/or practice”. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.”

The term professional is commonly used to refer to a person who holds a college degree. Reason why exist a marked distinction between the terms profession and occupation where the latter is associated to physical work and the former related to mental activity.

Being a professional has, for several decades, been considered a high-status position in society. However, more and more teenagers and young adults around the world, and especially in Latin America are starting to question the benefits of studying from four to five years in the university. “Should I really spend four or five years of study to become a professional? Is it worth it?” These are just some of the queries that have become increasingly common in realities like Latin America. Unemployment, Lack of job opportunities and well paid “professional” employments have led thousands of teenagers and young adults to choose technical careers instead of an undergraduate education.

Career technical education teaches a broad range of skills which apply to different jobs. Technical education entails learning solid academic skills that students can put to use in real life situations at work. According to SITEAL (2005), the percentages of students between the ages of 18 and 29 who finish their secondary education and continue to a higher education, to then drop out of college are alarming. This means that the option for vocational training open doors to employment.

Tech career

These numbers clearly show a new trend in education that meets the needs of both, the employers and employees. Among the most attractive benefits of technical careers are a larger demand for technicians, higher earnings, and the service provided to the individuals and the country.

Today vocational and technical careers are in high demand. In fact, there are more job openings for technical careers than for undergraduate professionals, especially those that are related to accounting, business and health, among others. However, it has not always been so.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, a bachelor’s degree was a must if a student wanted to succeed or secure for a higher position within a company. The best grades and performance during the career reflected preparation and success, regardless of the hands-on training or real-life practice, the college graduate may have had. Technology and globalization changed the scene quite a bit, not only changing the skills required for a job but workplaces themselves. Modern workplaces are constantly changing, and those who will succeed should possess and develop a diverse set of competencies that will allow them to perform not one or two roles in the company, but take over any position needed to face the situations that companies nowadays do.

Technical education prepares students with the skills, competencies, and practice to deal with the present and future technology. Looking back in history, after World War II, higher education represented a standard of living. It represented a safe path to security and a brilliant future. Big businesses were in high demand of professionals to manage and increase production. During the late 80s, big companies changed to small businesses where many kinds of skills were required to execute diverse tasks. Such performance claimed for a different kind of education, more dynamic and diversified. Thus, technical education fulfilled these requirements in less time and reaching healthier and better wages.

According to Forbes, technical and vocational jobs are not only better paid but considerably growing and on high demand. Undoubtedly, the tech industry is among the best-paying ones, a crucial factor to take into consideration students, who find themselves in the currently so common dilemma of professional or technician, have become much more aware.

In addition to the great demand for technicians and the so attractive wages technical careers offer nowadays, people who study a vocational career can also find their realization in their significant impact on their society and their countries. Compared to the end of last century when health and social work were not valued; nowadays, jobs known as community and health services are essential for society’s growth and development. Thus, these occupations provide countries with a better level of life, adding competitiveness and productivity to the working sector. Workers in health and human services supply assistance in their areas which are helpful and valuable, and by helping their society, they help their country. Such services careers are an important vocation.

Even though the term professional has for so long been restricted to an exclusive list of occupations, usually related to college degrees, the emergence of so many highly-valued areas of work has sparked the debate on what a professional is. In his article “Traits that convey character also define a professional,” Peter Post beautifully lists and describes some of the characteristics that any person performing an occupation should possess so as to be considered professional. Among these traits, Post mentions consideration, respect, and honesty. Taking such characteristics and the benefits of studying a technical career herein previously mentioned and described into consideration, there is no trace of doubt that our modern society and the new economy are eagerly awaiting for a giant wave of brand new professionals, professionals in technical careers committed to constant learning and service who become experts in a specialized sector of any given industry.

 

References

SITEAL (2005). La educación superior en América Latina: acceso, permanencia y equidad. Datos destacados. Buenos Aires: IIEP-OEIUNESCO

“What Is Professional? Definition and Meaning.”BusinessDictionary.com. Web. 10 May 2017.

Post, Peter Globe Correspondent 2014 August “Just what does it mean to be a professional? – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.

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.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMultimediaTopics

Schools and the proper use of technology

M.Sc. Maria A. Mora

The issue of digital citizenship has become a relevant topic to discuss at school. Should it be a subject in our schools? Who is in charge of teaching all the elements involved in the responsibility of using technology, parents or teacher? Are we aware of the risks that technology involves for learners?

Problems such as cyber-bullying, time spent on social media, plagiarism, and inappropriate use of technology or disclosure of information are some of the issues teachers have to deal with in modern classrooms, and it seems as if they were always one step behind all this ordeal.

Schools trying to avoid further problems have found a solution on forbidding the use of tablets, cell phones and other kinds of technology in the classrooms, along with the use of social media, blogs and any other type of communication on the web.

On the other hand, there are schools which are promoting the use of technology, teaching their children and teenagers how to use technology responsibly, ethically, and safely. First of all, they include the instruction of digital citizenship as part of other subjects. In some cases, students have to sign an agreement where they will accept the responsible use of digital devices, networks, and software for educational purposes and activities. Learners have to agree on keeping personal information and others, private, showing respect on social media, giving credit to others for their work, and reporting immediately any improper use of technology. Such measures are ruled and regulated in schools by organizations like the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). They have found the need to make an alliance with schools and parent to inform and protect young ones from unawareness and inexperience of the effect and consequences when surfing the net.

In addition to these agreements, teachers can look for pages online to instruct their students on how to make healthy choices online, the same way they would for their health. One of the best places to start is Common Sense Media where they offer eBooks and printable digital citizenship curriculum for grades K-12. These resources provide a printable scope and sequence that allow teachers to prepare students for engaging in a digital space.

Furthermore, institutions must involve parents in this process of technological education to seek that before-mentioned wellness beyond the school premises. The search for such knowledge turns out to be quite a challenge for schools, parents, and instructors, since technology is always in motion, and one can never be well trained in the use of an application when another appears. Then, agreements, programs, and curriculums to instruct on digital citizenship have to go under revision to cover every angle once more.

Institutions need to implement efforts and commitments on behalf of every part involved once the technology is integrated into the learning process, incorporating classes on digital citizenship. The main principles to promote and develop a healthy digital culture in our classrooms are transparency and trust. Blocking pages and the internet itself is not the solution anymore, but empowering students with the right element, and trusting them to make the right decisions regardless of the supervision they may have.

English FactoidsLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

Book Review: 21st Century skills

About the authors

Bernie Trilling is founder and CEO of 21st Century Learning Advisors and the former global director of the Oracle Education Foundation. He has participated in different organizations which work on the development of 21st-century methodologies.

Charles Fadel founded the Center for Curriculum Redesign and has worked in a variety of educational projects around the world.

The book is written from an educational point of view, providing information on the skills and attitudes needed by teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Authors appeal to the significant changes suffered in the last years which require certain adaptations to the classroom, programs, and lessons. The book includes a DVD with examples of education programs adapted to the 21st century.

The book entails three parts. First, it describes the environment surrounding the 21st century. Second, the authors describe which would be the skills required to succeed in the 21st century, and in the last part, they focus on a proposal for learning in this age.

The 21st-century skills covered by the authors are divided into three broad groups:

  1. Learning and innovation skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and collaboration.
  2. Computer literacy skills such as digital citizenship, as well as research and the accurate use of information, media, and technological systems to achieve effective communication.
  3. Professional and life skills such as adapting to changes, developing initiative and self-direction, global and cultural awareness, and interaction, productivity, leadership, and accountability.
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 TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

E-Papers: Teachers’ Treasure Trove

By James Cordonero

 When it comes to using realia in an English class, there is no other resource more updated, readily available, and abundant than online news. Nevertheless, teaching a news-based lesson is not just a matter of attaching a link to Edmodo and sending an article for students to read or merely asking them to google it and parrot it in the next class session.

To begin with, well thought-out news lessons should have a clear goal and be structured in such a way that they allow for the implementation and development of several stages such as warm up, pre-reading activities, reading the article per se,  listening to the article whenever a recording is available, vocabulary building and post-reading exercises as well as homework. It is worth mentioning that when using news lessons, instructors ought to implement a segregated-skill approach to developing a particular language skill (speaking, writing, reading, listening), yet all of the four skills should be practiced whenever possible.

Additionally, EFL instructors should also consider the following criteria (Andrew) when selecting a particular article:

  • Appropriateness:To what extent is the topic appropriate? Is it suitable for the class level and age group? Could it be upsetting to some of the students?
  • Interest:Will the students be interested in this topic?
  • Length:Is it too long? Articles that are particularly long should be avoided. Reading news articles is demanding and if they are too long, students might feel discouraged. It will also take time away from students’ talking time.
  • Language and structure:Is there a semantic field (e.g., education, environment, etc) instructors can use to enlarge learners’ lexicon? Are there any target structures related to the contents being covered in the class?
  • Generative Potential:In what other ways can the article be exploited? That is, are there any other activities to follow the article? Articles that lend themselves to discussions, debates, or role-plays are desirable.  Students should able to further practice the language after the reading and/or listening.

Teachers should not only bear in mind such prerequisites but also try, depending on the subject or type of class being taught, to focus on one of the language skills. For instance, one alternative way to using online news stories for developing writing skills is to pair up students, show them a headline and ask them to write as many questions as they can, just as if they were journalists tasked with writing the article corresponding to the headline. Then, they are to answer their own questions and organize their responses into a short article layout provided by the teacher. Afterwards, learners can compare their written versions with the original article.

In addition to being representative examples of clear and concise writing, newspaper articles showcase different types of writing models: informative, persuasive, expository, etc. This plethora of writing samples is certainly a teachers’ treasure to which they can resort to enrich their lessons and bring a large dose of reality into their classrooms.

Regardless of the skill instructors choose to emphasize, an effective news lesson should surpass the boundaries of the article and provide students with the chance to use the new vocabulary and/or knowledge meaningfully and in a variety of real-life contexts.

 

References

Andrew, J. (2008). ‘How to Effectively Use News Articles in the EFL Classroom’, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 12. Web

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.

Business and ManagementEnglish FactoidsLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadTopics

Talent Management vs HR

Adapted and condensed from the article by Susan M. Heathfield (2016), ‘What Is Talent Management – Really?’

For those of us who are not so acquainted with the term “talent management”, it is a phrase used in the area of human resources to refer to a company’s or “organization’s commitment to recruit, retain, and develop the most talented employees available in the job market”. In other words, talent management is a strategy some companies have started to implement in the hopes of retaining their most talented employees.

What apparently sets talent-management-oriented companies apart from the ones that use the term “human capital” is the emphasis placed on the manager’s role instead of on Human Resources when it comes to the life cycle of an employee working for an organization. Therefore, in a talent management system managers take on a greater responsibility and play a crucial role in the recruitment process as well as in the ongoing development of and retention of top performers.

Some of the processes involved in the talent management system include recruitment planning meeting, credential review and background checking, on-the-job training, coaching and relationship building by the manager, just to mention but a few.

Most of the processes above mentioned are now part of the main responsibilities of managers in some organizations.  Human Resources’ role, on the other hand, is to provide support and backup, yet in terms of supporting, developing and coaching an employee comes from his or her daily interaction with the manager.

Talent management is a relatively new concept in the working world, and a consensus is yet to be reached, but certainly, it is a strategy worth trying out to contribute to the growth and well-being of any organization or company.

References

Heathfield, S. (2016). ‘What Is Talent Management – Really?’ The Balance. Web

Business and ManagementCulture & DestinationsEvents and ActivitiesLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

Teaching Math, English and Engineering

Mathew Anderson, President of Keiser University

August 21, 2016

Mathew Anderson, President of the Latin American Campus of Keiser University in San Marcos, Carazo, is a scholar of how the development of robotics will make easier the lives of many people, and cause the misfortune of those they replace.

He is also a ‘preacher’ of the importance of having a bilingual workforce, not only because he runs a training school in that language, but because of the proven correlation between the acquisition of English, and the growth of the employee’s income, and GDP of a country.

Immersed in the task of implementing the Global Scale English in the country and focusing on the expansion of the University to the northern triangle of Central America, Anderson spoke with Confidential about Keiser the educational project. The expert in International Education, specializing in the History of Philosophy, also referred to the effects of 3D printing on world trade, and the impact the ‘Trump effect’ would have on the national BPO industry if the Republicans win the U.S. presidency.

What is the current status of the teaching of English in Nicaragua?

The fastest way to help the country and contribute to the growth of its economy is to learn English. There is evidence and statistics show that states that have adopted the teaching of English as a priority, which is the lingua franca – have seen an increase in per capita income and the economy in general.

The English Proficiency Index serves to verify the data, which draws information in 60 countries, without exception, those countries with higher levels of English, were those who had the higher income.

Research showed that individuals who had higher levels of English had incomes 30% to 40% greater than average. Even countries like China are promoting English as the medium of communication at the corporate level.

Something singular to Nicaragua is that outsourcing companies (BPO or call centers) have a high demand for bilingual staff, but in Nicaragua, there is no critical mass in English.

Countries like Nicaragua might not be an attractive destination for BPO if Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency …

For these decisions to be active, Trump would have to be approved by the US Congress and negotiate with its members, and I do not consider they want to lay off 11 million people. Rather, Trump is emphasizing on the issue of wages, which have been stagnant for a long time in the same range.

Although, working in a call center is a solution for an immediate job, what other advantages does a bilingual worker have in a market like Nicaragua?

The call centers are only touching the surface. In fact, for middle managers and senior executives, it is a key element to have English proficiency.

Generally, between 30% and 50% of all businesses worldwide have to make cross-border communication, and in an increasingly global world, there is greater demand for such type of communication. Even small grocery stores in Nicaragua are working with suppliers who provide services from abroad.

How can Keiser improve the teaching of English in the country?

Keiser is adopting universal standards for the sake of BPO and corporate companies operating in Nicaragua. We have seen that if institutions let the open market, without measurement, it caters the selling of programs that have no measure or verification of their quality.

The English teaching programs of our International Language Institute are reviewed and evaluated by doctors in the field of teaching English. Second, we hire people with master’s degrees in the discipline of English. Third, Keiser has a requirement that all English teachers are certified.

When someone studies English at another institution, he or she receives one to two hours per day of class, but in Keiser its English day and night for four years. The one with more consistency in the learning process will lead to having better results in the future. Besides, I must say that when comparing with other English teaching institutions, our prices are competitive with the quality and diversification we offer.

Who certifies teachers?

We use an international standard, and we are adapting our programs to align with the international standards. The GSE is a global consensus of more than 6,000 teachers. It is vital to stress that it is not a person or company that promotes the guidelines, but by a consensus of experts worldwide who participated and contributed to the design of the descriptors.

I do not know if others are using it, but we are promoting them. Our expectation is that other institutions get involved and chooses to adopt it and that the government involvement serves not only to recommend it but also to align its programs with it.

An American university in Carazo

“Our system of online education allows students to choose from up to 100 different majors.”

What are the advantages of studying at the Keiser Latin American Campus?

Most of our teachers come from prestigious universities, including Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford. Also, we are an American university, accredited to the American system with a level 6 in SACS, which is the highest.

This institution is service oriented to students who are eligible for an exchange program in the U.S., and within six months, also in China. Our pedagogy emphasizes critical thinking rather than memorization. Also, all of our classes are in English. Finally, our online learning system allows our students to choose from up to 100 different majors.

What is the Keiser educational project for Nicaragua and Central America?

Keiser tries to recruit as students, potential leaders within the region. There are good universities in Nicaragua and Central America that focus on the masses. Our focus is on the future leaders of Central American nations. Through leadership, we look for people with firm ethical and moral values and teach our students to be self-learners in the learning process.

As we know, knowledge grows exponentially every day. By contributing to the education of our students, we want them to help and return that knowledge to their nations.

Does it matter for a US employer that the title has been issued here, and not in Florida or Shanghai?

Absolutely! There is no difference. Graduates receive an American diploma which is also valid and recognized by the CNU.

You serve careers as Business Administration, Accounting, Criminal Justice, Technology, Nursing, and Psychology. How would you define the profile of this university?

Traditionally, the Latin American Campus has focused on business administration, political science, and psychology. However, like any other traditional school in the U.S., we also offer a plethora of options: we do not target a particular area, but we have a range of choices: from Associate Degrees (two-year degrees) to doctorates (Ph. D.).

As we are an institution accredited by SACS, which is the Southern Association of Colleges, 99.9% of our teachers have at least master’s degrees or higher. For our masters or doctoral programs, it is required to have a doctorate. For bachelor’s degrees, 25% of the courses must be taught by Ph. D’s.

How do you define your mission, regarding the type of professionals graduating: people with an American title that stay and work in their countries, or that go to work in the United States?

One of our added values is that 90% of our graduates get a job within and outside the country, or they get accepted into graduate programs. 85% of graduates get a job within their field of study.

In practice, most students choose to return home, but I guess that between 15% and 20% go abroad for work. Our primary focus is to stay in the region to contribute to their nations.

Artificial intelligence and critical thinking

People have to invest in training focused on the development of creativity

You say that 65% of children now in elementary school will labor in jobs that do not exist yet. What do you rely on to make that claim?

Historically speaking, inventions make some jobs disappear while generating new jobs, but AI is replacing the thought process, and will eliminate more jobs than it will create.

The estimate is that within 30 to 50 years, Artificial Intelligence will oust the thinking process. In fact, there are already jobs as security and home care among others, which are starting to be replaced by robotics.

What will differentiate us in the process is how we are developing critical thinking and creative thinking. For example, within academia, there are computer programs that validate qualifications objectively, and may qualify the quality of a trial. There are also computer programs that write short news reports in the field of business.

What should education systems do?

Writing on paper is easy. The focus has to be towards engineering, liberal arts (believe it or not), mathematics, (we should be emphasizing in that discipline since students are very young) and everything that is related to creativity, because other professions are being eliminated, even at this time when we are talking about it.

As an example, McDonald’s is operating fully robotic restaurants in some cities in the U.S., and I know of a company that replaced all agricultural workers with robots.

As for international trade, a pending topic to address is that 3D printers will rectify the logistics process and production so that all you have to export is raw material for ‘printing’ what you need.

You mentioned several professions that are at risk of being replaced by intelligent machines or robots, including teachers of primary and secondary schools. Can it also happen to university professors? And to those who teach English?

I recently read an article that mentioned that technology would not replace teachers, but teachers who do not use technology. There are aspects that neither robotics nor artificial intelligence can handle because they are part of human nature, but there are computers that can play chess better than any human.

Right now, both artificial intelligence and robotics, come to assist us in different jobs, but perhaps in the future, within 50 to 100 years, they might come to replace us. Stephen Hawkins always says that jobs will disappear, but will have to wait for time to pass to know if that prediction comes true.

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.