Tag: Methodologies

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMultimediaTopics

Schools and the proper use of technology

M.Sc. Maria A. Mora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingMultimediaTopicsWorld View

Digital Citizenship and ELT

M.A. Maria del Carmen Gonzalez

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish 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 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 MethodologiesLearning and Skills Development

Teaching meaningfully or covering textbook content?

by James Cordonero, Keiser International Language Institute

For those of us working in education, teaching a class that is meaningful to our students can turn out to be an elusive goal. Several factors may prevent instructors from achieving such a goal, chief among them: lack of time to prepare a meaningful lesson and the tyranny of the contents to be covered in a textbook. The latter factor often poses a dilemma for most teachers since some of the topics in a textbook may be completely irrelevant to the reality students live in, and yet covering pedagogical material usually takes a higher priority at the institutional level. This is where teachers’ creativity, experience, and resourcefulness come into play to make pedagogical material come alive for learners and give them something to get their teeth into, so to speak.

An effective teaching technique includes problem-solving activities that present students with cases, even worst-case scenarios, and follow-up questions to guide analysis and foster discussion. For example, a unit dealing with intelligent transportation systems, the kind of technology which is still science fiction in our country (regardless of the newly installed “smart traffic lights” in Managua), could turn into a good opportunity to discuss common issues in the Nicaraguan context such as drunk driving fatalities during the Holy Week, road accidents, and traffic jams.

Another technique for instructors to move beyond rote learning and take a quantum leap into meaningful learning is by encouraging students to think critically. One way to foster the development of high-order thinking skills is by posing thought-provoking questions instead of just providing input. This can give instructors a chance to kindle students’ interest in the seemingly unappealing topic to be covered in the next unit or chapter and thus get a class actively engaged in the learning process while activating background knowledge. For instance, a unit related to abstract art can be introduced by raising questions that make students voice their opinions about what they like or dislike about art in general and what they know about the different forms of art in Nicaraguan culture. They could also be asked hypothetical questions that require them to think or imagine what the world or a particular society would be like if art did not exist, or if saving valuable pieces of “art is worth a life”, a central theme explored in the film The Monuments Men.

As teachers, we should always bear in mind that meaningful learning is knowledge that solves a problem or addresses a particular need. Unfortunately, in many educational institutions in our country, breath of coverage has a higher priority over contextualized and meaningful knowledge. This counterproductive approach to teaching results in nil but classes about everything and nothing in general where students are overloaded with meaningless facts and required to parrot them without even digesting the data, not to mention analyzing them.

In brief, a more down-to-earth approach to teaching and a focus on real-world related matters can contribute to altering the entire culture of a school or school system. It enables students and teachers to explore different types of reality-check scenarios, which is what ultimately will prepare students to tackle with tangible issues. Meaningful learning entails crossing the artificial boundaries of the academic disciplines and injecting a dose of reality into students’ brains so they become more competitive in a fast-changing world. Let’s dare to jump over the fence of conventionality and shift the emphasis from cover-the-material memory work to a more hands-on learning experience.

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/

Classroom and MethodologiesLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopics

The Best Way to Learn English? Just Make it Fun!

by Bethany Vilchez

You are sitting in a classroom and the teacher is filling the board with grammar rules about comparative adjectives.  You are trying so hard to pay attention, but all the words on the board make your brain shut down. You decide to take a short nap. When you wake up, the class is over. Oh, well.  You’ll have to review again at home!

Now, picture this: You and your teacher are sitting in a circle and having a discussion about your favorite apps, what you like and dislike about each one.  You and the other students download some of your favorite apps to show one another and compare which are the best and the worst.  Before you know it, the class is over.

You had fun, and you learned about comparison adjectives. But why is it that one can learn more or more easily, for that matter, while having fun?  Linguists agree that any activity that relaxes students can make it easier for them to acquire information. One such expert, Stephen Krashen, calls this the affective filter. When a student feels pressured or is under stress, his/her affective filter is raised which prevents him/her from acquiring any new information. Basically, a high affective filter can be compared to a mental block. The idea is to keep the affective filter low so that concepts can “flow” to the brain and not be impeded.

Another reason why it is easier to learn new concepts while you are having fun is something called intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is performing an activity because you enjoy it.  So, if you are having fun while completing an activity, it is much easier to feel motivated and master that endeavor or task. Without intrinsic motivation, it becomes very difficult for someone to excel in any pursuit.

Finally, Dr. Glasser, the creator of Choice Theory, stated that “Fun is the genetic payoff for learning.”   It is a basic need that drives human behavior. In other words, when learning a language is fun, it becomes natural and empowering. Thus, having fun while learning a language leads to quicker and more natural acquisition of that language.

Remember that having fun does not mean that there is chaos or disorder in the classroom; it is quite the opposite. Students are extremely focused and astute because what they are doing is extremely interesting and motivating for them.  Thus, having fun while learning relaxes students and leads to a more natural acquisition of the target language.