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A Teacher Training Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand

CLIL and EMI is not only big in Europe – it seems to be on the rise everywhere. This is what I found during an intense and exciting day at the School of Liberal Arts at King Monkut’s University of Technology, where I conducted a two-hour workshop on Scaffolding Techniques in CLIL/EMI, and most important, had a chance to meet with lecturers, Masters students and Secondary school teachers who are interested in EMI in Secondary and Tertiary education.

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The workshop was organized as a taster of the more intensive training I offer EMI lecturers at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and sought to engage participants in reflecting on the rationale of scaffolding learning when teaching through a foreign language, as well as applying a number of reception, transformation and production scaffolds suited to the learner’s language and subject competence.

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I am particularly grateful to the faculty at KMUTT, especially Richard Watson Todd and Ornkanya Yaoharee, for their invitation and for making the workshop possible.

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9 Principles of University Instruction

After 15 years working as a university lecturer teaching courses ranging from languages to Social Science, I feel it is a good moment to write down what I consider to be some of the most important principles of good teaching – at least the ones that have inspired my own teaching practice the most.

What follows is a wholly personal reflection based on my experience as a student and as an instructor,  and therefore makes no claims of academic validity. Still I hope it will spur some discussion

 

1.- Activate your students

There are a million ways of doing so, and your choices will depend on variables such as course materials, the profile of your students, or your personal style. By and large,I believe in capitalizing on students’ intrinsic motivation, and try to design class work that is engaging both personally and cognitively.

 

2.- Expect the best from them (and say so)

I still remember a lecturer I had during my degree in Canada who taught my group a History of Science survey course. Well, she’d constantly say things like, “well, I could explain such and such a theory, but I guess it’s too complicated”. We all felt like telling her that at the same time another lecturer was asking us to read (and understand!) Kant’s Critique of Judgment in a week. And maybe we didn’t quite get there – but which of the two managed to motivate us more?

Most students like to be challenged. And that’s understandable, because setting demanding yet realistic challenges is a sign of respect for students and their potential.

 

3.- Make your students think

Activation, of course, is not enough, if our students just end up cramming information into their short-term memories in order to eventually regurgitate it in the exam. Most courses will offer plenty of opportunities for thinking that goes beyond memorizing (sometimes called higher-order thinking) and it is your job to design activities that promote thinking in your class.

Taxonomies such as Bloom’s can be of help:

Resultado de imagen de bloom taxonomy

Source: Expert Beacon

What taxonomies such as Bloom or SOLO suggest is that lower order thinking skills are necessary but not sufficient, and that coursework and assessment should factor in higher order thinking, too.

For instance:

Evaluate the respective pros and cons of economic policy A in an economy described by characteristics C1, C2 and C3

is a better question than

Describe the main features of economic policy A.

as it asks students not only to remember and understand (as the second question does), but also to apply, analyze and evaluate.

 

4.- Shut up and teach

In EFL teacher training courses and handbooks there is big fuss about reducing teacher talking time (TTT) and maximizing student talking time (STT).  Of course, in language courses the point is essentially to get students to communicate.

However, even in regular content teaching it turns out that students are usually more cognitively engaged when talking, negotiating, explaining, team-writing….in short, doing. Emphasis on collaborative class-room and flipped methodology goes in this line.

 

5.- Make sure your assessment techniques are aligned with what goes on in class

I’ve written about constructive alignment before, as one of the theoretical frameworks on teaching that I have found most inspiring. Still, it still surprises me how easy it is to fail to evaluate students on the same skills that we ask them to develop in class.

So what happens if most of the grade depends on a final exam that is based on memorization? Well, most students (except perhaps the most academically oriented) will adjust to that evaluation choice and, perhaps, not give their best when it comes to attending our fantastically planned, student-focused lectures, or submitting other assignments that we have designed in order to improve our students’ thinking, communication or team-work skills.

 

6.- Use authentic texts

Why do so many uni lecturers keep sharing their own notes (a.k.a “apuntes” in Spanish) or endless Powerpoint presentations crammed with way too much information? Generally speaking, and when compared to published materials, notes tend to be poorly written and insufficiently referenced. Further, as I see it, they are a reflection of an obsolete model of education, in which the instructor is primarily the source of knowledge and the student the “recipient” thereof.

Instead, I feel it is much better to expose the student to well-written texts in the discipline, whether it be teaching methodology handbooks, journal articles or research reports, and train students in critical reading of those genres.

 

7.- It’s not about knowing and doing: It’s doing for knowing, and knowing for doing

Maybe my bias here comes from my training as a language teacher, but I never quite bought the theory first, then practice sequence. In my experience, theory becomes most meaningful when it is taught in a real-life, practical context. This is the principle behind many teaching approaches such as problem-based or task-based learning. Further, I feel that students nowadays have a shorter attention span (or, if it’s the same as before, then they are worse actors) so introducing theory in a clearly defined practical context is the key to engaging them from the very beginning.

 

8.- Give quality feedback

As in other fields, convenient and immediate access to information using Internet has radically altered our roles in class. So, if we’re not here mainly to supply information, what is our main function? Well, in a student-focused scenario (see numbers 4 and 7, above), designing and managing meaningful classwork will take-up a lot of our time. But so will feedback, or the way we respond to student work and that should enable student progress on the targeted skills. In teaching terminology, we’re talking about capitalizing on formative assessment (for learning) v summative assessment (of learning).

There are almost infinite ways of providing feedback to student work: comments on paper or online, using evaluation rubrics or checklists, whole-class comments and clarification after correcting an assignment…

Generally, in recent years I have tried to take the extra step from teacher-focused feedback to more student centered forms of self- and peer-assessment. As I have described elsewhere in this blog, it turns out that this methodology, while not necessarily improving the performance of the stronger students, does result in a higher average performance for the class.

 

9.- Have fun

Yes – really. You’re a university instructor, not a prisoner breaking rocks in some God-forsaken penitentiary.Have you ever thought about how lucky you are to be in the position of cognitively stimulating human beings at the prime of their lives? We all remember some or all of the good teachers we had in the past. They were engaging, inspiring and mostly fun. Well, who says it won´t be us who’ll be remembered by our students twenty years down the road?

 

 

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Más microcuentos

Publicar cuentos en el blog de uno está bien. Publicarlos en compañía, mejor. Pero publicar en la buena compañía de autores mejores que uno es insuperable.

Hace unos meses mi amigo Xavier Frías me invitó a mandarle unos micros, que han aparecido recientemente publicados en la antología Antropotecas, una publicación en línea de la Editorial Juglar que podéis leer aquí.

Seguimos calentando motores para la publicación de Pistola de Madera, el libro.

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Brainwriting colaborativo en CLIL

En esta entrada quería compartir con vosotros una estrategia que he implementado este año en algunas de mis clases. Se trata de utilizar la técnica del Brainwalking para generar ideas de forma colaborativa y añadiendo, además, la peculiaridad de realizarlo fuera de clase. Esta actividad se realizó en dos clases, con la finalidad de generar ideas para consensuar una rúbrica de evaluación para un trabajo de curso. (Los detalles sobre esta forma de evaluación están en esta otra entrada.)
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¿Qué es brainwalking?

El brainstorming o lluvia de ideas consiste, como es bien sabido, en generar ideas de forma oral, aunque puedan registrarse por escrito. El brainwriting introduce el matiz de que cada persona o grupo elabora un texto o anotación que luego circula y es a su vez fuente de reflexión y más input escrito por parte de los demás autores. Pues bien, el brainwriting añade un matiz kinestésico al proceso: son los participantes, y no el papel, quienes circulan.

¿Ventajas?

  • Optimizamos la exposición a las ideas de los demás, fomentando además la lectura activa: no se trata solo de leer, sino de comentar.
  • Rompemos la rutina habitual de realizar tareas grupales en el aula, o de que siempre hablen los mismos en el momento de la puesta en común.
  • Generamos un clima de trabajo más relajado en el que los miembros del grupo pueden adoptar roles diferentes a los habituales, a veces más activos y responsables.
  • Seguramente hay estudiantes con un perfil más kinestésico que piensan mejor de pie o con la posibilidad de caminar cada pocos minutos.
  • Mandamos un importante mensaje simbólico: el aprendizaje no es algo que tenga lugar exclusivamente en el aula.
  • Del mismo modo, generamos un ambiente de centro más abierto, donde el trabajo de una clase está abierto al resto del alumnado.

 

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International Week at UCC (Denmark)

Participating in UCC’s International Week  on 13-15 April has definitely been one of the highlights of my year. I’d been planning to visit Denmark as an exchange teacher for many years, but this week turned out to be a much better experience than a regular Erasmus STA trip. Indeed, in a normal Erasmus faculty visit one often feels rather isolated, as the opportunities of meeting students and other faculty members is rather limited.

During these three days, on the contrary, participants at the International Week were given the opportunity to

– Deliver seminars to local teacher training students. In my case, I was able to hold seminars on two of my areas of interest, “Using micro fiction in language teaching” and “Thinking Routines in CLIL”.

– Meet, and mingle with, Danish and international lecturers in formal and informal contexts, promoting new partnerships and joint research projects. In fact, it seems that we’ll be joining universities from Turkey, Belgium, Portugal and Ireland for an Erasmus project!

– Meet local students interested in UCC’s exchange programmes with other universities.

– Hear about research projects at UCC’s Education departament.

As you may imagine, I was able to do lots walking and running around, getting to visit fabulous neighborhoods such as Christianshavn, Norrebro and famous Christiania. And, no less, hear lots of people speak like the characters of Forbrydelsen or Borgen, two great Danish series I’ve been watching lately. (No luck bumping into Sara Lund, though).

Special thanks go the organizers of the International Week, especially International coordinators Sabine Lam and Kirsten Lauta. And, of course, to our local coordinator at CES Don Bosco, Patricia Revuelta.

And now for some visuals:

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Nyhavn – your classic sight!

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Cool office buildings. I believe this is where Borgen series’ TV 1 offices are located.

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Host teacher and students discussing micro fiction!

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Venue of most of the teaching – close to Norreport station

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Norrebro sight

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Hmmm…..I think I’ve seen you before!

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Standard coffee machines at UCC. These Danes know about quality of living

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No – things just don’t get cooler than this

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Presentación de Microesferas

El pasado 27 de octubre tuvo lugar la presentación de Microesferas, antología de microficción en la que participo con siete cuentos. El acto, que tuvo lugar en uno de los aristocráticos salones que tiene el palacete donde se ubica la SGAE, en Madrid, estuvo presentado por Lidia López Miguel, directora de la editorial Lastura, y Xavier Frías Conde, escritor y también editor de la misma.

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Los autores y editores presentes en el acto

Durante la hora aproximada que duró la sesión, los autores presentes leyeron algunos de sus cuentos, así como una selección de cuentos de los autores ausentes. Se escucharon relatos de todo tipo: divertidos, tristes, misteriosos…y emocionantes, como la lectura realizada por Xavier Frías de la traducción al gallego de uno de los relatos de la autora Laura Frost. Y es que, fiel a la apuesta multilingüe de Lastura, Microesferas se ha publicado tanto en castellano como en una versión traducida al gallego.

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A.L. leyendo uno de sus microcuentos

 

En definitiva, fue una tarde muy agradable rodeado de buenos cuentos y buena gente; toda una incitación a seguir escribiendo cuentos y, tal vez, poder publicar mi propio libro de micros pronto.

Microesferas se puede comprar a través de la web de la editorial Lastura

 

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Alineamiento constructivo

El comienzo del curso es un buen momento para recordar la importancia del alineamiento constructivo, idea del profesor y escritor John Biggs. En pocas palabras, una asignatura o enseñanza bien alineada es aquella en la cual los objetivos del profesor, el trabajo que realiza el alumno —tanto dentro de clase como fuera— y la evaluación formativa y (sobre todo) sumativa se ajustan entre sí.

Por citar algunos ejemplos, alineamiento constructivo no es

  • programar la asignatura a partir de una serie de habilidades cognitivas de orden superior pero luego no proponer actividades en clase que permitan desarrollarlas.
  • primar excesivamente la memorización de contenidos, cuando los objetivos han sido definido principalmente en términos de competencias (=saber hacer).
  • utilizar los trabajos o exposiciones de curso —individuales o grupales— solo como instrumentos de evaluación sumativa, al renunciar a proporcionar al alumno las pertinentes correcciones u observaciones a su trabajo —el llamado feedback— que le permitirían desarrollar las competencias que hemos asociado con el mismo.

Mi experiencia es que, por muy en serio que nos tomemos estas ideas, siempre hay margen de mejora en como programamos, gestionamos el aprendizaje de nuestros alumnos, y lo evaluamos.

Aparte de los escritos de Biggs, creo que la mejor explicación del alineamiento constructivo la ofrece la archiconocida película “Teaching teaching and understanding understanding”, realizada por un equipo de la Universidad de Aarhus, Dinamarca, en 2006.

En este vídeo, además, encontramos un excelente (y divertido)  análisis de la diferencia entre enseñar a los alumnos y meramente entretenerles. Creo que es una distinción tremendamente válida no solo en enseñanza universitaria, sino en todas las etapas de la educación obligatoria.

Os pongo a continuación los tres vídeos de la serie.

 

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