Archivo de la etiqueta: scaffolding

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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Archivado bajo análisis, Blog, English, higher education, Sin categoría

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