Tag: ELT

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 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.

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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.

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 ManagementWorld View

Business Challenges and Implications of the English Learning Curve in Central America

By Research Committee, Keiser International Language Institute

Companies have always required human capital with a vast knowledge in diverse fields and people with a plethora of skills, but these requirements have evolved and have become more complex throughout time. These needs present a high degree of correlation with the changes in technology, globalization, economy, and easiness of access to information, which makes them highly dynamic. Nevertheless, the ability to speak English and, more importantly, be proficient in the language, is a particular skill that has gained strength throughout years and has shaped businesses and economies in a subtle yet powerful way. In Central America, the importance of the English-speaking labor force deserves particular attention due to its critical role in the countries’ development and the challenges governments face to foster this development.

Not so long ago, English proficiency meant a considerable advancement at a personal and professional level that gave individuals a significant advantage over the rest of the job seekers.. In fact, it enabled them to have access to a wider array of employment opportunities. Moreover, it allowed them to obtain better positions with higher salary ranges in their home countries and abroad. However, the effect of English has evolved and now companies in all countries where English is not the native language have steeply increased their demand for a labor force that masters the language, making it an indispensable requirement for employment. Business leaders and policymakers are aware of the fact that English has become a lingua franca in many fields and a critical factor in the growth of their companies as well as for the economic development of their countries.

Different strands of research conclude  that there exists  a direct relationship between English skills  the population has developed and the economic growth of a country (McCormick). In countries  where English proficiency has improved , the income per capita has increased as well. The great importance of English derives mainly from two aspects: information and key players. English represents access to information vital to decision-making, strategy creation, and policy making.  Two cases worth mentioning  include academic and practitioner-oriented literature,  the vast majority of which and the most relevant ones are in English. Furthermore, English grants companies and countries access to key players necessary for their development, profitability, and growth. Countries with a large number of English-speakers combined with high levels of proficiency generate more negotiations and trade besides attracting more foreign investment.

The demand for people with specific language skills in a country and the companies within it directly relate to the number of countries and people outside it that speak its mother tongue. Moreover, demand for a particular language depends on the economic relevance of the countries with which  a nation engages in negotiations and trades that speak the language in question.

These factors help explain the development of the English skills people  in Central America develop. On the one hand, historically the trade of Central American countries has taken place with one another , which reduced the need of English in these countries. On the contrary, over the last decades, Central America has expanded its borders and has been increasingly trading with the U.S. and other developed countries.  In other words, these countries are now highly dependent on developed countries, and the most direct method to bridge them is English. This has created a radical increase in the demand in Central America for a labor force that masters English.

Even though English represents such a crucial tool for companies and economies, Central American countries has been unable to leverage and fully exploit it because  their respective populations  lack a strong base of English skills; as a result,   these nations face a shortage of workers who are highly proficient in English. . In its Globalization of English Report, McKinsey & Co., and Global English state that only 13 percent of graduates from emerging economies are suitable for employment in multinational corporations, and the number one  reason is the lack of English skills (2). The English Proficiency Index 2015, a global ranking of English skills per country, serves  as a useful indicator of the consequences  that may ensue as a result of the lack of English skills in the Central American workforce. In this index, Venezuela and El Salvador rank in the Very Low Proficiency range;  Costa Rica and Panama, in Low Proficiency, while Argentina ranks in High Proficiency, which correlates to their respective economic performances. Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras do not even appear in the ranking.

The core of the current state of English skills in Central America lies in the dynamics and difficulties the education systems in  most of the countries have experienced , which has left the region with significant challenges to overcome. To begin with, historical events such as wars and political distress in the XX Century hindered the economic development of countries and hence access to quality education, especially knowledge and skills  that went against the political priorities of the time. Even though countries have been able to overcome  these issues  at different levels and have implemented policies to promote education, they still lack sound strategies for the teaching of English; they face deficiencies in primary school, and they have scarce trainers regarding quantity and qualifications. Moreover, Central American countries have been unable to integrate adequately technologies in the teaching of English, which has hindered the effectiveness and reach of efforts in education of the language.

Furthermore, this type of Central American Dark Age left significant gaps in what has become today the top management of the most prominent companies. Only a small percentage of the generation of leading managers in most countries today can speak English, and a smaller percentage has an advanced level of proficiency. This means that organizations and economies are unable to achieve higher levels of growth and investment because they lack the human resources to get involved with the key players in the world economy and business world. Digging deeper it is possible to analyze some ramifications of the problem. Top management with insufficient English skills creates tension between themselves and the emerging graduates that up to some degree are entering the labor force with a higher level of English. At the same time, it is mostly the people with relatively high income who are capable of affording (quality) education in the language, which in the end widens socioeconomic gaps.

The lack of English skills raises another red flag for Central American countries as is the adequacy of English and technical skills or specific know-how and training. English helps individuals obtain better jobs within their scope of  study. This fact poses issues whether these individuals are the best fit for these posts or if they possess the knowledge to outperform those competitors that do not speak English. Hence, this evidences a necessary tradeoff between English skills and specialized training that jeopardizes companies’ profitability and growth and the need for training that addresses both aspects.

Business leaders, policy makers, and educational institutions are confront with the difficult mission to fill the gaps and improve the education of English in the Central American region.  By doing so, they will  be able to  achieve higher levels of development and investment. They should  provide a foundation for elementary education, create effective strategies for the teaching of English that ensure the number and quality of trainers, as well as the integration of technologies. Also, stakeholders need to create training programs that prepare the labor force with the technical knowledge in specialized areas and the English skills to accompany it.  This would mean a substantial enhancement of the labor force and, therefore, the development of the private and public sectors as well as the economy of the countries in the region.

References

Education First. “EF English Proficiency Index”. 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

Global English. “The Globalization of English Report: Globalization Accelerates Need for Business English Communication Skills”. 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.

McCormick, Christopher. “Countries with Better English Have Better Economies”. Harvard Business Review, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 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.

Quick Tips

How a Good Teacher Becomes Great

10. By Making Relationships a Priority

Learning should result in personal and social change. This requires personal relationships as much as it does academic progress, no matter what the data tells you.

9. By Showing True Content Expertise

As a teacher, you play many roles: colleague, sounding board, designer, task-master, friend. But lost in the hubbub of recent efforts to improve education seems to be a respect for the teacher as a content expert. Most university programs require very limited demonstrations of content expertise, and the folks that interview you in most K-12 schools and districts have for so long focused on assessment, classroom management, and other significant requirements of the job that their content knowledge, while perhaps not entirely perishable, has proven to wane over the years.

Great teachers are constantly seeking not simply more effective ways to teach, but more ways to understand the nuances of their own content area better themselves.

8. By Striving For Personalization

Differentiation of instruction is an excellent response to learner differences. Different learners have different needs—not just in terms of learning styles, but pace, sequence, and content. In a traditional environment, learners must be brought to the same standards and a similar level of proficiency, which is crude and dishonest. Though full-on personalized learning for every student is still beyond the reach of most educators (and thus students), great teachers strive for personalization of learning experiences.

7. By Always Seeking Meaning

Great teachers seek meaning—in the minds of students, in their content, in the role of the school in a community, in the roles technology should and should not fill in their classroom, and so on. While they honor popular opinion, great teachers independently seek their own meaning for everything they do—and not simply as part of an emotional check-list (Find meaning? Check.), but rather authentically, and with a playful, curious spirit.

6. By Modeling Curiosity

Speaking of curiosity, great teachers model it. Content expertise is crucial, but the tone of that expertise should never sound self-assured or arrogant. Teach like your classroom is a TED Talk, full of inquisitive minds that, while exceptionally bright, probably lack the specific sliver of expertise that you happen to have. By modeling curiosity—during discussions, presentations, conferences, meetings, and even Reciprocal Teaching panels—you’ll not only show students how curiosity leads all learning, but more importantly change the tone of your classroom entirely.

5. By Integrating Technology Meaningfully

This one sounds vague and obvious, but let’s clarify what it does not mean: to integrate technology meaningfully doesn’t simply mean to simply do what couldn’t otherwise be done without that technology (connect with global peers, embed a voice-over on a presentation, create a 3D model of a widget before pitching it to classmates). For it to truly be meaningful it has to result in understanding that somehow—in depth, duration, or complexity—exceeds that which it might have without that technology.

Learning is not about showmanship, or even learner engagement, but understanding.

4. By Collaborating With Other Great Teachers

Start with your local department, school, and district, and then make your way to twitter, facebook, and blogs everywhere. Birds of a feather….

3. By Measuring Understanding In Diverse Ways

Understanding is complex. It’s almost impossible to explain what it looks like, and two teachers in the same building teaching the same content might disagree passionately about what students should be able to say or do to prove “they get it.”

Recently I suggested that “the first (step) is to be aware of the ambiguity of the term “understands,” and don’t settle for simply paraphrasing it in overly-simple words and phrases like “they get it,” or “proficiency.” Honor the uncertainty by embracing that not only is understanding borderline indescribable, but is impermanent itself.”

The more diverse the evidence for understanding is that you accept, the more empowered and successful the learning in your classroom—and the more “real” it will all be—less about compliance, more about the students and that critical notion of understanding.

2. By Prioritizing

Great teachers have the same number of expectations placed on their shoulders as good—or evenmediocre—teachers. And rarely do they get more done than these less than breed of educators. But they simply get the right things done. The important things. Like what? That’s another article for another day.

1. By Getting Out of the Students’ Way

Challenge students, convince them they can juggle planets, then get out of their way. So often good teachers—in their tremendous goodness—have tightly scripted the learning process to make sure to elicit all the hallmarks of learning. Only they bleach the learning in the process. Impose an authentic need to know on the students, give them the tools, and get out of their way.

The classroom of a great teacher is not filled with their own voice, buzz, or spirit, but that of the learners.

Perhaps the greatest strategy of all, then, is to know when to break the rules, and be willing to move out of the accepted archetype of “good teachers” to give your students what you know they need.

by Terry Heick
http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/how-a-good-teacher-becomes-great/

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?

Learning and Skills DevelopmentWorld View

Assessment for Learning with the Global Scale of English

by Mike Mayor, Pearson Education

How much is too much?
Everyone, it seems, has a view on testing – good or bad. Noam Chomsky, the eminent linguist, has entered the debate on standardized testing claiming that testing is being turned into something “extremely harmful”: It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank. Not into doing things that are valuable and important. But can testing itself be inherently good or bad? Even if we acknowledge that some tests or systems are broken, do the naysayers truly believe that a world without any assessment would be a better place to learn? Is it not possible to identify the positive impact of testing and create an assessment system that ensures teachers and learners are “doing things that are valuable and important”?

All testing is not the same
We can all dredge up examples from our past of tests and exams that have scarred us for life. Mine was the practical paper in Art at aged 16. Topic: canals. I still can’t look at a lock gate without feeling sick! And many of us have failed exams in subjects that we have later gone on to master. I failed French at school, and went on to obtain a degree in the subject. So how valid were those tests?

Although they were both a snapshot of my proficiency at that moment, the way the results were dealt with had vastly different impacts. The Art exam went off to be marked and I got a grade. End of story. I never saw the artistic output of my efforts again, had no feedback on my performance (other than the grade) and, honestly, never gave it another thought until I started writing this article! The French test, on the other hand, was graded by my form teacher and handed back to me with annotations and feedback. We went through it together (I think he was almost as shocked as I was) and used it as the basis for follow-up work. This was in the 1970’s and no one was yet speaking about Assessment for Learning. But, as with all great practices, it was something that teachers were doing even before the terminology was coined.

To take another example – what about health tests? They let us know how we are doing, physically, and enable us to modify behavior if the results are not what we – or the doctor – want to see. We don’t get the results of a medical test and then simply throw them away, we work through them with the medical professionals to see what can be done.

Why should educational test results be any different? The test shouldn’t necessarily be the end of the process – it could be the means to a more “valuable and important” outcome; the start of an informed discussion about what the learner should do next.

Helping English language learners answer the question – am I making progress?
What started as a research initiative to look at the measurement of language proficiency and how this can be used to inform and motivate – rather than just “test” – has blossomed into a completely new learning and teaching ecosystem. The Global Scale of English ecosystem is made up of four parts – the scale itself, a set of Learning Objectives or ‘can do’ statements that describe exactly what a learner can do at each point on the scale, course materials and assessment tools. Unlike some other frameworks that measure English proficiency in broad bands, the Global Scale of English identifies what a learner can do at each point on a scale from 10 – 90, across each of the four skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. It’s been psychometrically aligned to the CEFR so teachers familiar with the CEFR system will find it easy to navigate.

The Learning Objectives are central to the ecosystem in that they provide context for teachers and learners, describing exactly what it means to be at a level of proficiency in English in terms of what a learner can do. For example,
At 15 in reading a leaner ‘can read and understand simple prices.’ (Below A1 on CEFR)
At 26 in listening a learner ‘can understand basic questions about people’s likes and dislikes’ (A1 CEFR)
At 37 in speaking a learner ‘can make simple, direct comparisons between two people or things using common adjectives.’ (CEFR A2+)
At 62 in writing a learner ‘can systematically develop an argument giving the reasons for or against a point of view.’ (CEFR B2)

Having a granular scale means that proficiency can be measured more accurately, progress can be demonstrated more regularly and formative assessment can be used to plan future learning. Rather like those discussions with my French teacher, the Global Scale of English learning objectives facilitate meaningful discussion.

Filling in the gaps in the CEFR
The work to develop the Global Scale of English (GSE) builds upon the research carried out by Brian North and the Council of Europe in creating the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR). In developing the scale, we have created new learning objectives which extend the existing CEFR Can Do statements in both number and range, providing information to support a far more granular definition of language proficiency across all four skills. When proficiency is measured on a more granular scale, it is easier to demonstrate small amounts of progress. Yes, a learner may still be B1 for several years (according to the CEFR), but on GSE, they have 16 points of incremental proficiency to be measured against (43 – 58) – so progress within a CEFR level can be demonstrated.

The CEFR has good coverage of Can Do statements for Speaking but less so for the other three skills. And almost two thirds of the Can Do statements cover A2-B2, with little at the lower and higher levels. The new GSE Learning Objectives serve to fill those gaps in the CEFR, enabling progress to be measured equally across the four skills. GSE also identifies a level “below A1” (from 10-21), meaning that it is now possible to assess beginners using the GSE Learning Objectives.

Anyone who’s tried to learn another language will know that one of the most difficult challenges is staying on track. Seeing real progress in the skills you’ve been working at, step-by-step, is hugely motivating, whether the goal is working towards a high-stakes test or becoming more confident in English for social reasons. Our research indicates that learners find it empowering to see their progress as it happens and that assessment across all four skills facilitates a more informed discussion with their teachers. For teachers of English, the GSE ecosystem offers the detail required to create learner focused syllabuses and courses that reflect learner needs and expectations that can be measured in a meaningful way.

Participants at the ELT Journal debate were pretty vocal in their objections to testing – but the focus was on testing as we know it today. Testing might be harmful in some contexts – but this doesn’t mean that the process of assessing is necessarily harmful. In his IATEFL presentation on Why teachers should love testing, Jeremy Harmer ended with a rallying cry to teachers to do something about the current state of assessment. “Testing is crucial to what we do. Even if you don’t like it, it’s not going away.” His conclusion? “It’s up to you!” To which I would add “You are not alone! Some of us working in assessment genuinely have the learner’s best interests at heart.”

This article appeared in the July edition of Modern English Teacher www.modernenglishteacher.com

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

To Read or Not to Read? That is the Question.

By James Cordonero

“Reading is the beacon without which I’ll be adrift in an ocean of ignorance.” James Cordonero

In this day and age, digital technology, video games and internet craze deluge the homes, schoolbags and even the pockets of most Nicaraguan students. Such a situation has caused reading to carve an undeserved niche at the bottom of the totem pole of priorities to enrich the human experience, or it has just come to be dismissed as just another academic requirement to plod through school.

If reading plays one of the least important roles in Nicaraguan society either for educational purposes or “low-tech entertainment”, why do so many scholars and educators keep clamoring that it is an essential tool for students to develop their critical thinking skills? Why is there a compelling stack of evidence suggesting that there is a close relationship between reading and academic success?

The illustration below shows how proficient reading, vocabulary enrichment and academic success are related to one another.

Source: http://esl.fis.edu/parents/advice/read.htm

Indeed, reading is both a key to success in the academic and professional world and a source of amusement. As stated by a scholar, “reading is the only form of entertainment that is also an essential life skill” (Aina, 2011).  Both students and professionals in every field must read to keep abreast of what is happening in their respective fields. Unfortunately, in Nicaragua, like in many other Latin America countries, most people, ironically students themselves, have a strong aversion to reading. Several factors exacerbate the issue of poor reading habits in our country. Social media as well as other forms of digital communication and entertainment take the lion’s share of the blame, but another factor may paradoxically be the education system per se. Eduardo Báez, head of Books for Children in Nicaragua, argues that after doing so much interpretive reading and “filling out so many 3×5 cards with boring information at school,” students tend to become adamant book haters. In other words, school does not contribute to building the habit of reading; instead, students learn to view it “as a necessary evil”.

Additionally, some elementary and high school teachers oftentimes and inadvertently instruct their students to do “cut-and-paste research”, thus turning the latter into an army of lazy researchers and fostering a culture of plagiarism. Consequently, when students get to university, they lack critical thinking and research skills they need in order to succeed in their respective fields. That is if they manage to pass the university admission test. Statistical information reveals that there is a large percentage of high school students who are unable to pass it. Last year, for example, Nicaragua Dispatch (2013) reported that “a jaw-dropping 94% of recent Nicaraguan high school graduates failed the basic entrance exam for the National University of Engineering (UNI).” Sadly, most Nicaraguan high school graduates are not even interested in reading to pass a standard university exam.

No one can deny that reading habits are changing due to technological development. Unfortunately, most of the evidence seems to suggest that they are either changing for the worse or vanishing into thin air. The misuse of technology and the control it is taking over individual lives has had a negative impact on people’s reading habits rather than facilitate the development of such habits. Indeed, the declining interest in the reading culture among our children and adolescents should be a cause of concern and a challenge to all, which is why something ought to be done to address this critical issue. Unfortunately, reading is not taught or included in the Nicaraguan school curriculum, for it is not a subject per se and cannot be taught separately as most other subjects in the curriculum rather it is incorporated in every other subject and is regarded as a tool facilitating other types of learning. Undoubtedly, the lack of reading culture among youths adversely affects the quality of graduates being produced by the nation’s educational institutions.

What school authorities in Nicaragua should do is to launch a readership campaign aimed at not only promoting a culture of reading at school but also encouraging parents at home to set aside time to read for their children. Further, reading should be promoted through partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors such as publishers, booksellers, and  instructors. Schools should also organize debates and essay competitions for students. This type of activities will certainly help in generating reading interest and the habit of gathering information more selectively. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that providing access “to relevant information and promoting a reading culture are prerequisites for strengthening literacy skills, widening education and learning opportunities, and helping people to address the causes of poverty” (Mokatsi, 2005).

References
Aina, A. J.; Ogungbeni, J. I.; Adigun, J. A.; and Ogundipe, T. C. (2011). “Poor Reading Habits Among Nigerians: The Role of Libraries” Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). Paper 529.  Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1560&context=libphilprac

Mokatsi, R. (2005). Sharing resources- how library networks can help reach education
Goals. East African Book Development Association. Retrieved from http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/igbokwe-obodike-ezeji.htm

Rogers, T. (2013). “94 percent fail college admissions test.” Nicaragua Dispatch. Retrieved from http://nicaraguadispatch.com/2013/01/nicaraguans-fail-college-admissions-test/

English Language TrainingTopics

ELT From the Experts’ Perspective

by ELT Trainers

Learners should take advantage of every single learning opportunity to improve and learn from the experienced ones.  That is exactly what happened on Friday, September 11th, when ELT Trainers, ELT participants, and some AEP instructors received Bernadette Musetti, Allen Ascher, and Alfieri Avilan at Keiser University International Language Institute in San Marcos. The gathering aimed at providing an opportunity to have an academic exchange of thoughts and learning between the visitors and the participants who have been studying and discovering Pearson’s online TDI content over the last six months.

Dr. Musetti, a book writer and an expert in Standard-Based assessment and ESOL, shared her advice and experience while working with ESOL learners as well as her expertise on setting standards for language programs.   Furthermore, the participants had an open forum with Mr. Ascher, one of the writers of the distinguished and awarded Top Notch and Submit book series. Ascher also participated in Pearson’s Teacher Development Interactive modules as the principal developer of the Teaching Speaking module.  The attendees learned about the series philosophy and module’s academic foundation. Last but not least, Mr. Alfieri Avilan, Pearson’s Academic Consultant and Keiser’s International Language Institute Academic Advisor for the development of the English Language Teacher Certificate, shared his knowledge in the use of technology in the classroom.

Here is a summary of the experts’ advice.

1. Teaching

Being the Language Institute courses mostly developed at the EFL and ESP levels, teachers asked the experts’ advice about teaching strategies that satisfactorily suit ESL learners and are paramount when teaching a foreign language. One essential piece of advice to consider is that teachers cannot continue embracing both traditional teaching and styles of learning.  Secondly, teachers and students have to rely on interaction at all learning levels and stages so as to develop in the learner confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Though games are simple and very basic, Dr. Musetti suggests using them to develop learners’ language skills and interpersonal communication. When students describe each other, post their descriptions, or find differences in pictures, they also develop vocabulary and speaking skills in general. These activities  do not only entertain students but also give  them chances to produce language in context and enable learners to engage in meaningful language interaction, explained Dr. Musetti.

Similarly, Allen Ascher complemented that traditional practices such as asking True and False statements and Yes/No questions after a listening, grammar, reading, or vocabulary exercise do not contribute to  learners’ language development, much less their critical thinking. For example, during True or False drilling, “the students have a 50-percent chance to give the right answers and …that’s not good”, said Ascher. “I want my students to be able to show me how they get to that answer. Or explain how they get to that answer and when I don’t have that happen I can’t see my students have learned. I cannot see if they know it unless they show me they can,” he added.

When the role of technology as a key leading factor to language exposure and learning was raised, Alfieri Avilan advised teachers not to become blind adepts of technology and to demystify the belief that links effective teaching to the use of technology and its resources. Avilan explained that “technology is part of (the process).  What we need to understand is …how we can combine these tools so the students can actually go beyond the fact of the use of these elements and create language moments.” Nowadays, many teachers are more concerned about what they miss and lack (better connectivity, State-of-the-art technology, and more gadgets); however, they tend to forget that these elements will not replace the role and the job of a teacher. Indeed, he added that “technology is not in the center; what is the center is the learners.” Therefore, teachers have to plan, so they can make adequate decisions about what and how to teach and with what resources.

  1. Learning

First of all, when helping young adults and adult learners learn, Dr. Musetti suggested using a more direct approach so as to obtain a more genuine integration in the learning process. “Be really explicit with your students and explain this is the approach I am thinking, and this is what I believe and why. And this is how you are going to benefit from it,” she explained. Why should teachers give explicit information? Because otherwise the students will be very confused, since what you are doing and trying to achieve in your classes does not match up with their course expectations and your teaching delivery.  Indeed, she added, “That’s the problem some teachers are having because their students are used to a certain way, a certain expectation, a certain approach to learning.”

Consequently, teachers need to be explicit about their teaching and learning goals and say what the goals require. “When teachers make their students part of this process, clarified the expert, “teaching time becomes easier, and the collaborative work improves. Being explicit is beneficial in terms of students learning.”

Second, a teacher’s work becomes more effective and rewarding when his or her students see learning as a process in which they create and build things.  As a result, if the conditions and environment induce to learning, the students’ affective learning filter reduces, concluded Alfieri Avilan.

Third, Ascher pointed out that “teachers play a crucial role in keeping students on their toes, keeping them thinking, and keeping them guessing.” If we were to transfer this thought to the classroom, then everything would come down to the kind of questions that teachers ask and to the students’ effort and success in providing satisfactory answers. Whenever a student provides an answer, ask him or her to explain the response.  When the students can explain their answers, teachers can see what students really and already know and whether they have actually learnt or not.

  1. Standards, Standardization, Assessment…

Dr. Musetti talked about the role of having standards and the importance of assessment in any teaching and language learning process. She advised teachers that before establishing any standard, they should do some research, look into it and assess the standard’s real value. “It is a critical thinking task…” because standards and assessment cannot be taken lightly.

In addition, “If any given institution feels ready to assume the process,” Dr. Musetti explained, “the institution should develop its own standards,  proficiency exams, assessment, and have  them on multiple and institutional levels.” “More importantly,” she emphasized, “the institution standards do not need to be exactly linked to the materials. The materials may become the learners’ exit criteria, however. This thought challenges the habit of developing programs and curriculum around well-known textbook series and publishers. Nevertheless, Dr. Musetti explicated that she is not against this practice since adopting standards is not harmful. In fact, an academic or national institution may adopt others’ standards and work with them as well, but these standards need to be adjusted to meet the institutions’ and learners’ specific needs and wants.

“What is the standard that Nicaragua needs? That you need?” She asked. There are different kinds of standards and purposes, and intentions. There are large scale standards for teacher preparation, for English language development, or there might be a national standard. Certainly, every institution may work toward a standard (even compete), but how they “are reaching the standard is up to them. However, having standards doesn’t have to mean standardization,” she explained.

Having standards is a path to follow and guide one’s work; however, there are other elements to consider. “The students are one essential element,” said Avilan.  How much they learn and how they get to that learning after a given learning experience is important. Another element to take into consideration is what skills they have developed and which strategies they were able to improve. Then it is not only understanding content but also understanding how the “puzzle integrates and what tools are required to carry out the assessment process.”

“Effective assessment,” Ascher added, “provides teachers with concrete evidence of the work done.  If your students are able to explain their learning, then your job is done. On the contrary, if they cannot explain their learning, you have the obligation to find out why they were not able to achieve the goal.”  Ascher went on to say that “this teacher’s reflection points out a teacher’s constant need to assess; whether to stop and review or to continue and move onto the next content.” He advises that get more at their students’ level to clearly understand what they need and lack, what they have achieved and what they have not. For instance, he illustrated, “if you teach vocabulary, ask questions that keep your students thinking even though the book gets out of questions, drive your students crazy with your questioning.” Then you can search for common grounds and standard processes.  All of it comes down to well-founded teaching practices.

To conclude, all panelists agreed that standards will not always work. Since standards are just words on a piece of paper, users have to be taught the standards, and then they have to assess them. The process of developing standards and standardization “takes a lot of fidelity on how you implement them and you assess them,” Dr. Musetti said. Last but not least, “if you find out the standards are or have been very useful… then and only then your institutions may be ready for standardization…”

  1. Food for Thought…

The following is  a list of the most critical thoughts brought up by the panelists.

Allan Ascher

  1. I cannot consider my students have learned unless they show me how they get to that answer or explain how they get to that answer.
  1. One of the most important questions to me in the classroom is Why? If the student gives an answer, ask Why? And I drive my students crazy with that why…
  1. Teachers play the role of keeping students on their toes, keeping them thinking, keeping them guessing, keeping them…

Bernadette Mussetti

  1. Be really explicit with your students and explain this is the approach I am thinking and this is what I believe and why, and this is how you are going to benefit from it.
  1. Developing standards; it is worth investigating. It is worth looking into it and seeing if this works for us…It is a critical thinking task.
  1. Having standards doesn’t have to mean standardization.

Alfieri Avilan

  1. Technology is not in the center; what is the center is the learners.
  1. Learning is a process of creating things and building things up so that is what the main use of technology should be about.