Archivo de la etiqueta: learning

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:

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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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Archivado bajo English, essay, higher education, Sin categoría, teaching

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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