Tag Archives: resources

Back to paper: supporting university student learning in the age of screens

Two years ago I had a particularly revealing experience in one of my classes. As I walked around monitoring student work, I noticed that at least two thirds of them were using their lap-top computer for purposes unrelated to the class. It was March, and many of them were editing drafts of their TFG (end of degree dissertation). Others were chatting on Whatsapp. Many were doing both.

Laptops abound in class!

Students sometimes come to class with the idea that they can sit through the session minding their own business and somehow make up for it at home, just reading through the Powerpoint presentation. That may be so in cases of traditional lecturer-centered instruction, but it is misled in the kind of student-centered learning scenarios recommended in this blog. And even more so when students are trying to process concepts and ideas in a foreign language, as in many EMI settings.

That same year, I visited PH Zug, in Switzerland, where I was initially surprised by my Swiss colleague’s use of a course package much resembling the ones I used in my student time in the 1990s. A paper package in the age of Moodle and e-campuses?

Sample pages from an ELT Methodology package used at PH Zug, Switzerland

Looking at its contents, I noticed that it offered a nice combination of theory, tasks and, perhaps more importantly, space and boxes for students to record their notes. I shared this with my colleagues back at Comillas and, while not moving away from Moodle-centered documentation, we have lately been handing out a number of worksheets such as the one below:

The rationale is simple. In an age in which students are reluctant to take notes, worksheets help students to have an outline of the class, as well as an opportunity (if not an obligation) to keep a record of their tasks and discussions – and this without the need to open the laptop. And even if the students choose to complete the worksheet in digital format (also available), the task-oriented nature of such documents help them stay focused, instead of drifting off.

Further, in EMI settings, we have found that the worksheet approach helps to scaffold group work, peer discussion and, especially, speaking in the foreign language during feedback stages.

As perhaps the most obvious con, this approach uses more paper…so let’s make sure our paper is recycled!

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Filed under EMI, Higher education, Pre-service teacher education (EFL and CLIL)

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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Filed under EMI, Higher education