Archivo de la etiqueta: aprendizaje cooperativo

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…

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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.

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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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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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Aprendizaje cooperativo

Da gusto ver cómo en algunos centros educativos se realiza un gran esfuerzo de actualización de las metodologías de enseñanza-aprendizaje. Aquí la palabra “esfuerzo” no es casual, ya que la innovación en metodologías y recursos supone siempre un reto para los profesores, y, a la vez, requiere de una importante inversión de recursos por parte de los centros.

Un buen ejemplo de un centro que apuesta decididamente por la innovación en materia educativa es el Colegio Mater Immaculata de Madrid, que tuve la ocasión de visitar por primera vez el curso pasado, y en el que trabaja un buen número de antiguos alumnos míos del CES Don Bosco. Observando varias clases de inglés y Science, pude comprobar, entre otras cosas, lo interesante que resulta la aplicación de una metodología de aprendizaje cooperativo que busca que los alumnos se familiaricen con los diferentes roles del trabajo en equipo y, a la vez, desarrollen una importante autonomía en el trabajo grupal.

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Información sobre los diferentes roles propuestos

Lo que vi me gustó tanto que este curso, aprovechando la colaboración entre el Mater y el CES Don Bosco en dos líneas de Trabajo de Fin de Grado que coordino, le pedí a Rodrigo Ruiz, mi persona de referencia en cole, que se acercara al CES para impartir un taller sobre AC a alumnos de cuarto curso del Grado de Maestro en Ed. Primaria. El taller sirvió para que nuestros alumnos experimentaran de primera mano los diferentes roles propuestos (speaker, coordinator, supervisor, environment) a la vez que realizaban algunas tareas de las asignaturas de inglés y Science en Ed. Primaria. Y, en lo que a mí me toca, para traer al aula una experiencia más próxima al quehacer diario del maestro de asignaturas CLIL, en el contexto de una asignatura titulada “Formación para el Bilingüismo”.

En definitiva, el taller ha sido una gran ocasión de traer “el cole” a la universidad, lo cual, evidentemente, debe ser una línea prioritaria en la formación de futuros maestros. Gracias a Rodrigo por su buen hacer y a las autoridades del Mater por liberarle una mañana.

 

IMG_1918

Señal de silencio. Habrá que probarla con algunos de mis grupos…

 

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Rodrigo en acción, en los pocos momentos en los que tenía que dirigirse al gran grupo.

 

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Monitoring!

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