Thursday, April 30, 2015

You Are A Teacher, So Teach!

Some time ago, when knowledge was limited and made little progress, the teacher managed his own knowledge as he pleased and gave him authority.

Now that virtually all knowledge is in Internet and quickly becomes obsolete there are many students who know more about certain things that the teacher does, so his authority as a teacher cannot be based on what he learned in his Primary Teacher Training Programme and must be searched it in his ability to lead the learning process.

This is more complex situation and not all teachers have succeeded in adapting.

In the past (not long ago!), children had enough with work and determination; Now the school and the labour market make strong pressure on them for a long time, so teachers need to offer also motivation, because effort and will is not enough.

The solution is to listen to those who have to learn, to those who know what excites them and to those who handle so much information from young, because you can learn a lot from them.

The teacher's role has to change. We must give autonomy for learning and we must become the person who guides, who facilitates and who helps to discern the true from what is not.

The school has changed little in its conception of the classroom, teacher, student or type of learning, but society has changed dramatically and with it its raw materials, which are the kids.

“The school was designed in a society that childhood was an incomplete adulthood, whereas now adolescence has its own character and culture-authenticity, people skills, and so is socially dominant and copied and admired by many adults”. (Ismael Palacín, Fundació Jaume Bofill)

But let’s focus on English as a Second Language Teaching.

What Young Learners Dislike in ESLT?
  • Any form of grammar or vocabulary exercises; 
  • Having no control over their learning; 
  • Having to read alone and quietly; 
  • Studying about topics with no immediate or necessary interest; and
  • Being told what to do.
Young learners appear to dislike any form of control or anything which constrains their ability to make autonomous decisions over their continuous guided learning of English. If you force them to complete activities, they will find any reason to not complete them.

Why teachers should try to incorporate projects into lessons? And therefore, why is project so important for young learners?

I have been writing a lot on Project Working and PBL in this blog (you can have a look to some of my old posts about…). But I will give you a short draft on it.

Project work in the classroom, is related to a Task Based Learning (TBL), which evolved from Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). It encourages learners to work cooperatively in groups to solve a real problem. The goal of delivering a solution will inspire learners to use English while doing a ‘task’ at hand.

There are many advantages to use Project Working in your teaching strategies, such as:
  • The students have total autonomy over language production and must use all their linguistic resources to communicate their ideas or solutions to team-members. 
  • The natural context for Project Work develops personalised and more immediate language learning for the students. 
  • Exposure to language will be more varied with language emerging naturally from the context rather than students being told what they are or will study in the course book.
However, we are focusing on Project Work with Young Learners, so what do projects offer that tasks don’t? 

TBL focuses on the solution and communication of the task, while PBL focuses on the end project (either with a presentation or showing off their projects to the class or school).

I suggest incorporating a project based approach because we develop communication in a natural setting and we also motivate young learners to develop personal and immediate interest in a topic that they are studying.

But that’s not all! The project based approach would: 

  • Encourage learners to use L2 as and when required. However, there is understanding that to negotiate the task some learners will revert to their L1 to develop meta-knowledge and ideas of the project; 
  • Be completed either a shorter or longer period of time; 
  • Integrate language and develop social skills (a must for any young learner developing their L1 or L2);
  • Personalise the learning for the students and encourage a sense of achievement unmatched by any other pedagogical approach for language teaching for young learners; and 
  • Have a specific outcome so that learners are able to ‘show-off’ their final products to class, school or parents.
To learn more about...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It is worth to use textbooks, activity books and worksheets packets?

Some days ago a teacher from Nebraska sent me this old post written by a graduated high school student.

I cannot agree more with his complains and critics towards the use of textbooks and activity books. I don’t want to have a discussion with publishers but I’ve been working without textbooks for many years and I believe it is the best way to face children to the real language, to problem solving, to develope language arts, language creativity and, above all to develop the language skills in a whole!
From TESconnect

Give it a read and reflect about your reality!

“Hearing the phrase “Get out your textbooks” from a high school teacher makes me want to throw up, and it is something I have heard for the last four years in almost every class from almost every teacher. Textbooks are filled with valuable information but are often boring, outdated, and even physically damaged from past use. In this day and age of “21st Century Learning,” it is insane that we are using 19th and 20th Century teaching strategies.

Most students today do not respond to textbook learning, and yet it is one of the most common ways for teachers to dispense information. Teaching out of a textbook is easy. It does not require teachers to step out of their comfort zone and find new ways to connect with students who are so eager to learn something useful that they can actually apply to their lives. The stereotype of students today is that they are uninterested in anything the school system has to offer. However, that is a complete lie. Students simply become uninterested because each school day seems to them like they have woken up in the movie “Groundhog Day” and go through the exact same motions as the day before. There is not a problem with the students, but with the dreaded textbook that has been around for so long it has become the status quo of teaching tools.

I will agree that the information in textbooks can be valuable to students. The information is not the issue. The issue is that many teachers today will hand out a packet they did not even create, tell the students to look up the information in the textbooks and copy down the answers word for word, and then go back to their desks where they will get on their computers and check their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Sometimes they may even see one of their students tweeting about how bored in class they are, and yet they will go right on down the page hoping to find something that makes them laugh out loud instead of things that make them consider how well they are doing their job. I am afraid that this routine is something the next generation of teachers will find themselves well accustomed to.

Open your textbooks!
I want my classes to be interactive and exciting! I want to be moving around the room, working with other students to solve a real world problem that can eventually tie back into what we are actually learning in the class. Students should want every class to go on longer and be surprised when the bell rings because the period went by so fast. They should not be checking the clock every five minutes hoping for a random fire drill that will speed up the hour, and then waiting at the door for five minutes at the end of the period staring down the second hand as it travels endlessly around the clock. Textbook teaching allows these things to happen, and it is really a tragedy for both students and teachers.

Every day teachers should be standing in the front of the room challenging their students to a higher level of thinking, and in return the teachers will be challenged themselves. Where is the challenge in handing out novel-sized textbook packets to students who will most likely not remember anything they copied down? To truly challenge the students, teachers must actually spend time outside of school researching new tools that help connect with students on a more personal level. The more teachers push themselves to connect and interact with their students in order to boost their ability to critical think and retain knowledge, the better the teacher will become. Over time, there is no limit to how good a teacher can become if they have that mindset and expect the most out of themselves. On the other hand, the more and more they use textbooks, which is the easy way to do things, the worse they will become at teaching and inspiring their students to actually want to learn. That is why textbooks have become the crutch of high school teachers. They are so incredibly easy to lean on, but if they were taken away many teachers would be absolutely lost because they have not challenged themselves to create more of a 21st Century learning environment in their classrooms.

The new job market requires students to have 21st Century learning skills, so it is not a surprise many students struggle when they get out of high school and college because they have been taught in a 19th and 20th Century learning environment. If schools want to create students that are competitive and indispensable in the job market they must ditch the textbooks and challenge their teachers to challenge themselves, and in return inspire students to achieve a love for learning, which can truly take them anywhere they want to go”.

After receiving this post, I found it in . Hope you don’t mind I repost it…

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Go... Shopping!

“The best way to learn a foreign language is to speak it”

Is this really true or is it only a myth? 

For most language teachers, the main goal is to have their students talking as early as possible and as much as possible. They believe that they should be quiet during their classes, while their students should have the opportunity to speak; students are expected to speak in class and write compositions almost from the first lesson, even though they have had almost no chance to absorb the grammar and vocabulary of English.

What is happening in our language classes is that we demand output from our students, but do nothing to ensure they have had enough input. A few hours of English classes every week, where the teacher tries to speak as little as possible (to give his students the opportunity to speak), are not nearly enough.

Yes, that’s right! Speaking is a very important skill and a very important aspect of the Language teaching performance... but not the only one!

It is obvious that, in order to talk like a native speaker, you have to listen to the things they say and read the things they write. So, students need more input from the very beginning. We should spend all of our time on reading and listening activities, in order to acquire the necessary vocabulary and grammar until they can write a few simple (but 100% correct!) sentences in English.

We should give lots of oral and writing inputs until the students will be able to produce simple and correct sentences without consulting the dictionary or “Mr. Google”!

And this is when they should start speaking, slowly and carefully, but still spending most of our teaching time on reading and listening activities, because input is the only way to develop vocabulary and grammar.


"Let's go shopping" is a short project made in my classes of grade 4 with the priceless help of our Language Assistants of the "Sharing to Learn" project.

Speaking was the main goal, but I had to previously work on some vocabulary, grammar structures, some writing, some reading and some listening... before they could speak in a proper way!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Driving Questions or the Amazing Process Of Divergent Thinking

Some time ago I posted some references about  the imprtance of "Driving Questions" in Project Based Teaching and Learning. In fact, to answer a Driving Question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team.   

"I really like Driving Questions. In fact, I like them so much more then Essential Questions. You might ask why? I think it just might be my affection for the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. You may remember that in the revision the different levels were changed into action. In fact, I strongly believe that learning is a verb and is based on action. Take away the word “Question” and Driving is a verb loaded with action. The word “Essential” standing alone is only a word devoted to describing… a colorful but inactive adjective".

So do I!

Michael Gorman wrote this post in June 2012 in his blog "21st Century Educational Technology and Learning" (that I really recommend you).

If you are interested in PBL do not miss this post because the Driving Question is often the hardest concept to get across to teachers.
I also suggest you another post from Joe Deegan, "Project Based Learning in 3 steps" that can you enlighten the idea of how learners construct their own solutions through the development of projects rather than being told what the solution is through formal instruction. 

If you are much interested in PBL and Driving questions (as much as I am!) you can have a look at my old posts: 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

How to Assess Speaking Skills

Speaking is probably the most complex skill of language acquisition.

“Speaking is a complex skill requiring the simultaneous use of different ability which often develops at different rates” (David P. Harris). 

The assessment of Speaking is not easy but it does not mean “speaking” cannot be measured in correct way.

Speaking performance can be done by different activities in Primary:

• Role playing
• Brainstorming
• Reading with partners
• “Show and tell”
• Oral reporting to the whole class
• Retelling stories with visual supports
• Giving descriptions or instructions using visual or written prompts
• Completing a dialogue or a conversation through written prompts
• Completing incomplete stories
• Playing games
• And, even, “karaokeing”!

But, the most important thing is to establish clear and fair criteria from the beginning. It might be helpful to develop these criteria in conjunction with other teachers or even with the students that will take an active role in their own assessment.

What a Rubric is?
A Rubric is a great assessment tool both for teacher and student. The rubric lets them know exactly what is expected in each step of the oral test and what each step is worth. It provides the student a visual guide for them to use when completing an assignment or doing a presentation.

Here you are an example of an Oral Scoring Rubric:

It is common accepted that an oral test should be divided into five elements:

  • pronunciation
  • grammar
  • vocabulary
  • fluency
  • and comprehension 

Each element characteristics are then defined into four or five short behavioural statements as stated in the frames above. This helps to make the test reliable, since it avoids subjectivity because it provides clear, precise and mutually exclusive behavioural statements for each point of the scale. The writer will objectively see the characteristics of each student. Speaking ability whether they achieve 1,2,3,4 or 5 score. Then, it can easily calculate the score. The amount of maximum scores gained is 20 or 25 depending on the number of statements.

Some other examples of rubrics to assess oral skills:

Some good stuff to start with Rubrics...