Tag: Reading

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Facing the 21st Century Education

by Erick Mariano Izaguirre

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

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

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 Today we are experiencing such an incredible amount of changes that what students learn at schools is obsolete in a couple of years.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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills Development

Words beyond Rote Learning

By Yara Torrez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadQuick Tips

Blended Learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom

Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett

Macmillan Publishers Limited

Oxford, England

 

Review

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

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

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

Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust Read

E-Papers: Teachers’ Treasure Trove

By James Cordonero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References

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

Classroom and MethodologiesClassroom TalesEnglish and TechnologyEnglish FactoidsEnglish Language Training

Fostering Creativity in the EFL Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Business and ManagementEnglish FactoidsLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadTopics

Talent Management vs HR

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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/

Learning and Skills DevelopmentStudents' Voices

AEP Students’ Responses to Reading

by Level 4 AEP students (Jan 2014)

As a writing task, an instructor asked her students in level four of the AEP (Academic English Program) to write a brief response about their reading habits and their viewpoints on the reading culture in Nicaragua. They ended up submitting the following reactions:

Most people in Nicaragua do not like to read because they think that it is a waste of time. However, reading is a good habit that everybody should develop. When people build it, they gain new knowledge, learn about other cultures, and get into different imaginary worlds. As a student of English, I am in the habit of reading a book per month, and I do it because it helps to improve my vocabulary and grammar. In my opinion, reading in English is easier than writing, and I know that there is a relationship between them. If people read more, it would be easier for them to write. (Leyder Lopez)

Nicaraguan students are not in the habit of reading because schools do not teach them how to read a book properly. I think that reading can help students improve their concentration, enrich their vocabulary and develop reading strategies. Nevertheless, in my case I do not like to read because I find it hard to focus, so I do not read unless someone instructs me to do so. (Gabriela Gurdian)

Reading contributes to developing one’s imagination. Unfortunately, the majority of people around the world do not like reading because they prefer to watch TV, play video games or listen to audio books. I believe Nicaraguan people do not like to read for the same reasons or because they do not have time or do not really appreciate the value of reading. (Cesar Arguello)

Reading is one of the best activities that people can do to exercise their brain. There are several reasons to make reading a habit. For example, reading develops one`s imagination, it keeps citizens updated about the latest news, and it helps them to learn a foreign language. However, watching TV is a more popular activity than reading a book. Reading English is pretty helpful for English learners. Indeed, this activity is easy, and it contributes to improving learners’ grammar, learning new vocabulary and developing speaking and writing skills. As a conclusion, reading is a beneficial activity, so it can really change people’s life. (Moises Tercero)

I prefer reading books to watching TV. I like being exposed to new sentence structure and learning new words and build up my vocabulary. Likewise, I think that writing in English becomes easy as result of reading. If people read English books, they will learn how to write. I think, people in Nicaragua should read more often to enrich their lives and grow more professionally. (Josue Camacho)

Reading in English has two important characteristics. First, it can help students improve their English, gain new knowledge and help them with their grammar. Second, reading in English is a good habit. Readers can find good information that can help them in their daily life and job; yet public schools in our country do not teach elementary school students to read effectively, so they do not develop this useful habit. Instead, they prefer watching TV to reading a book. On the other hand, private elementary schools teach their students to read more properly, so these learners have interesting conversation topics. In addition, students can share information and recommend books to their classmates and friends. In conclusion, reading is a good habit that helps people to become more knowledgeable. (Grethel Perez Galo)