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Scaffolding EMI classes at university I: Pre-lecture activation

The following entries discuss some strategies that I have found to be consistently helpful during my years of experience with EMI at university. They address the fact, explained in another article, that teacher talk by itself tends to be less effective when both teacher and students are working in a language they are not fully proficient in.

These strategies fall under the general label of learner-centred instruction – what in Spain has been called metodologías activas. As I’ve written elsewhere, I generally believe that such methodologies tend to be more effective than traditional teacher-focused instruction (clases magistrales) with most students and in most scenarios.

  1. Pre-lecture activation tasks

If the class is to be cognitively demanding, it is a good idea to plan for some activation tasks. Students need to warm up, as it were, and connect with their previous knowledge of the topic discussed, in order to better understand what is coming.

In the case of EMI, students will also welcome activation of language: concepts that have already been discussed, or language items that will be useful to talk about them. Remember that learning in a foreign language (FL) requires an extra effort, as well as increased exposure to the target language – mainly, because the concepts are harder to spell, pronounce, and memorize than if they were taught in L1.

What are some possible activities? Structured brainstorms, review questions, problem-solving tasks…

kwlbrainstorm

KWL brainstorm  at the beginning of a unit

 

  1. Using authentic texts

Furthermore, learning in EMI contexts benefits greatly from offering the students multimodal inputs. That is, not just teacher talk + Powerpoint presentations, but also offering texts, video materials…

In my previous entry, I wrote about the language benefits of using authentic texts. Think whether you can expose students to authentic or adapted materials in your field: reports, technical sheets, textbook chapters, newspaper or magazine articles, TED Talks.

When doing so, it is advisable to set specific, manageable tasks. That is, instead of “read pages 7-18 before next class”, “read pages 7-18 and prepare answers to the following questions” / “identify the main reasons why….” / “make a list of the most important principles of…”

Homework reading can then become a pre-lecture task, and the class can start with feedback on the reading.

authentic text EMI

An authentic, yet heavily scaffolded text in the field of Economics

 

  1. Fostering occasions for peer collaboration – also in your classroom!

Peer collaboration is a very powerful tool. Research in education has suggested that  that peer explanation tends to be more effective than teacher explanation, and is especially valuable as a scaffold for weaker students.

peer collaboration

Students collaborate; the instructor monitors and assists as necessary

In the case of EMI, remember that the scaffolds need to be not only cognitive/content related but, also, linguistic. So, don´t be afraid to allow time in class for students to do tasks or solve problems in pairs or groups!

To continue with the example given before, students can read an authentic text for homework, prepare answers to some questions, and then you can begin the class with a brief period (10 minutes) for students to compare their answers, and maybe do a follow-up task, before you conduct the feedback and teach or clarify any content.

Tip – If you have very large groups, where oral feedback and reporting can be hard to manage, ask students for a written outcome. This can be submitted on paper or shared online (shared document such as Google Docs, or using apps such as Kahoot or Mentimeter).

Conclusion

After this discussion, let’s compare two possible sequences, a traditional instruction centered one, and a more learner-centered, “scaffolded” version

Instruction centered – little scaffolding Learner – centered, more scaffolding
Teacher explains content for the entire length of the class. Very few interruptions from students.  

Teacher sets a reading task for homework

Teacher allows time for students to compare answers

Teacher conducts feedback to the reading task. This feedback naturally leads to lecture-time, where the teacher clarifies areas of difficulty, introduces new concepts, etc.

Students take notes. Maybe some students ask for clarification. Students read the text and answer the questions.

Students compare their answers. Weaker students or students who failed to do the homework get a chance to ask for help.

All (or most) students get involved, as the teacher expects an oral or written outcome for each group.

All (or most of) the students are activated to the topic of the lecture and related English language items before the teacher-focused part of the class begins

 

What are your thoughts on these strategies? Do you think they can be effective in your own classes?

 

 

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English as Medium of Instruction (EMI) and Methodological Change

captura de pantalla 2019-01-24 a las 18.10.09

Teacher talk in a foreign language – Use with caution!

Several years ago, a Spanish colleague who was teaching International Law to Spanish-speaking students in a university in Madrid, challenged my belief that instruction in EMI requires adapting one’s own teaching methodology.

“What do you mean I should scaffold the readings?” she asked. “I set the relevant texts, and it’s their students’ problem, not mine, to make sense of them.” Que se busquen la vida was the Spanish way of putting it.

In short, she saw the challenging of overcoming the language barrier as the students’ responsibility, exclusively, and found no need to teach her EMI course differently from how she would teach it in Spanish, both her and her students’ monther-tongue.

This short text provides a number of counter-arguments to this view, which I find is quite commonplace in EMI lecturers. It is based on my own experience teaching EMI courses and coordinating a team of EMI teachers. It is also supported by research in the field, by authors such as Emma Dafouz and David Lasagabaster.

The bottom-line is that traditional teacher-focused methodologies and instructional styles are less effective in EMI contexts than when lecturer and students are working in their L1 or a language they fully master. And, for this reason, it is my belief that most lecturers in most academic fields would gain from moving toward more learner-centered, collaborative learning methodologies that shift the attention away from teacher talk. Here are some reasons why:

1.- Teacher talk is less effective in English than in L1. Several studies have questioned EMI lecturers about the main obstacles of EMI, and many have identified the difficulty of interacting “naturally” and “spontaneously” with students.

Tellingly, one of these lecturers claimed that “for me, the biggest difference when teaching in English is that I find it hard to be spontaneous and (I believe) fun […] I can’t joke with the students, which for me is a way to keep them engaged.” (Dafouz, Núñez, Sancho y Foran 2007; cited in Dafouz 2015). Understandably, teaching styles that follow the “sage on the stage” paradigm will suffer more by switching to a foreign language.

2.- Teacher input is limited from language standpoint, and must be supplemented with materials produced by native speakers.

This is not merely a linguistic point, as it overlaps with the need for students to speak and write fluently and correctly about the subject content. This requires, for instance, effective use of academic vocabulary, lexical collocations…which are hard to master for non-native speakers.

Examples:

  • The use of the verb “conduct” together with the nouns “research” or “an interview” (lexical collocations)
  • The specific use of academic verbs such as “discuss”, “argue”, “implement”, “assess”, etc.

Teachers often share with students their own notes and Powerpoint presentations. This may come as an adequate support of content acquisition, but I believe that, for students to obtain the full benefits of EMI instruction, the course design should also provide ample opportunities for engaging with authentic and non-authentic texts (written and aural) produced by native speakers of English.

These texts can range from less to more technical, including newspaper articles and video reports, documentaries, news stories, textbook chapters, journal articles, lab reports…In turn, work on these texts should promote a more learner-centered instruction that will offer opportunities for discussion, problem-solving and so on.

3.- More profoundly, as Emma Dafouz argues (2015), courses are taught and learnt in a given disciplinar and academic culture, that might not be identical with the culture of the same course as it would be learnt and taught in L1. This is how the author represents it graphically:

captura de pantalla 2019-01-21 a las 16.41.48

Source: (Dafouz, 2015)

 

In my experience as an EMI lecturer, it is worth it to offer students the chance of reading, say, academic essays and scientific reports published in English, as their genre requirements and conventions differ from the Spanish ones, and acquaintance with such genres are “a part of” learning those academic contents in L2. More so if we expect students to be able to speak or write in those genres as part of their coursework.

For instance, if we want students to write a Biology or Chemistry lab report in English, it makes sense that will have read, discussed and analyzed samples of lab reports published in English-speaking contexts, and not merely “translate” a lab report the way they would be done in the L1 contexts. The same is true of other academic / disciplinar genres such as debates, presentations or academic essays.

For all these reasons, as Dafouz (2015) argues, EMI lecturers would gain from promoting a more learner-centered teaching methodology, enhancing the role of the teacher as mediator of information. And offer a number of explicit scaffolds to support learners in mastering the course contents in a language neither them nor the teacher is fully proficient in. In another article I will be discussing what some of these scaffolds can be.

 

References

Dafouz Milne, E. (2015). Más allá del inglés: la competencia lingüística multi-dimensional como estrategia para la enseñanza en la universidad internacional. Educación y Futuro, 32, 15-34. The full text is available here: https://cesdonbosco.com/documentos/revistaeyf/EYF_32.pdf

 

 

 

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Seminars on EMI and CLIL at PH Zug, Switzerland

International visits and teacher mobility experiences are, without a doubt, one of the biggest perks of my job. They are enriching in so many ways, but perhaps foremost among them is that they make you see what you do back home in a new light.

In November 2018 I was lucky to visit the delightful town of Zug, close to Zurich, as part of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme. The visit was a short one – just two days of work, one of them devoted to visiting local schools, and the other one to teaching at the university.

captura de pantalla 2019-01-18 a las 11.03.46

During my day at PH Zug, I conducted seminar presentations on three topics:

  • The Comunidad de Madrid Bilingual Education Program
  • Scaffolding Instructional techniques for CLIL Primary Education
  • Effective scaffolding of learning in EMI higher education courses

It was definitely fascinating to try to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of such an ambitious CLIL program as the one we have in Madrid together with students and teachers who are working in a context where there are very limited CLIL experiences, mainly some EMI instruction in public high schools.

IMG_20181128_180312_314.jpg

With Dr Olivia Green, who kindly organized my timetable of teaching and school visits

It was also exciting hearing about how PH Zug’s gradual efforts at implementing EMI in teacher training courses is contributing to the university’s internationalization, and at the same time is welcome by the national German-speaking students.

More so, there is also some work being done on using French as a medium of instruction, and promoting French CLIL in German-speaking schools. I can’t think of a better way of promoting a true multilingualism and building bridges between the different language communities of such a diverse country as Switzerland.

In an age where the European integration project has come under attack, it’s inspiring to be able to enjoy experiences of international cooperation and sharing of ideas as the ones I enjoyed during my short stay in Zug.

img_20181127_174702_773

Who’s who at the college. What a great idea!

 

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Our Co-teaching experience: An assessment after year 1

In the previous entry, I was reflecting on the challenge of planning and delivering a university course in a truly collaboratively way.

Well, my colleagues Magdalena Custodio and Lyndsay Buckingham and myself just presented an analysis of our first year of co-teaching together, in the framework of Instituto Franklin’s 4th International Conference on Bilingual Education in a Globalized World, that took place in Alcalá de Henares on November 16-18, 2018.

You may find a summary of our theoretical framework, as well as a description of our experience and main findings here:

On top of improving our co-taught coursework this year, we hope to build a more systematic research framework and investigate what makes co-teaching a positive factor in our classes, and to what extent exposure to this strategy can influence teacher trainees in their professional growth.

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The CLIL Team!

 

 

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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.

IMG_20170815_140308208

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.

IMG_25600815_154134

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.

antropotecas

 

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