Author Archives: teachingtoteach

About teachingtoteach

Raquel Fernandez is a lecturer at the Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros, Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) where she trains university students to become English teachers at Primary level. She is also involved in research and materials development related to both EFL and bilingual teaching.

1st Meeting of Educational Teams

On 29th May, our University will be hosting the 1st Meeting of Educational Teams. The central idea is that we are living in a society which moves very fast and requires of educational centres to change and adapt constantly.  Therefore, Head Departments of Educational Centres need to be flexible and creative to cope with these circumstances, looking at obstacles as if they were opportunities. In this context, this meeting aims to provide participats with the opportunity to think and reflect about the ways we can take advantage of educational change to keep on advancing in Education.

The Meeting is open to Head Departments and Teachers working at any educational level, and it will be held using Spanish as the vehicular language. It will run from 9 to 14.30.

Registration is free, but you need to book a place by sending an email to with the subject: I Encuentro de Equipos Educativos de Organizaciones que Aprenden. In this email you need to indicate your complete name and Identity Card Number.

If you need more information, you can access it here


1st Meeting of Educational Teams at Cardenal Cisneros University College. Photo: Communication Service CUCC


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Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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My experience with rubrics: all that glitters is not gold

When I first heard of rubrics, I was thrilled to bits. Assessing students’ work is not my cup of tea, and I always found it difficult to provide students with enough feedback to justify my mark and to guide them to improve their work. Working with rubrics looked the perfect solution for this situation, and I started to use them with enthusiasm. I was a Practicum tutor, and I thought it was a good idea to use rubrics. I defined 30 items as assessment criteria and checked Practicum reports following it. It was hard work at the beginning, but once I knew what I was looking for in my students’ work, it became sort of automatic to mark their works. Once this assessment process was finished, I found out that most of my students didn’t come to my office to collect their works, hence, they didn’t have access to the wonderful rubrics I had written for them. Naturally, I thought that my assessment was better because I could justify the mark with detailed arguments, but I did not feel I was fulfilling the ‘formative feedback‘ I wanted to provide.

Using rubrics: pros and cons

Using rubrics: pros and cons

Once the new degrees (Bologna Plan) were implemented, it sounded natural to me to incorporate rubrics to my everyday practice. Every time I assigned a task, I included clear information about what I expected students to do (or be). I started using checklists, then went through assessment criteria classified into 5 levels according to the level of excellence, and finally I used level descriptors, explaining which outcomes belong to each mark for each assessment criteria. It took me a long time to find useful rubrics, and most of the time I had to adapt them or make them new from scratch. Even showing students rubrics in advance was not so effective as I thought, and many of them confessed they did not look at them when completing assignments.

My last stage in the use of rubrics has been somewhat ‘painful’. From the results I obtained using rubrics in different tasks, I realised that many students were obtaining passing grades, even when their work was not worth that mark. In other words, I considered that if I hadn’t used rubrics, students wouldn’t have had a pass. I discussed this with my colleagues. Some of them had stopped using rubrics, because they considered it was a waste of time (students don’t look at them, it takes longer to mark works and marks tend to be higher than they should; that’s what they told me); some others were adapting them to make them ‘fairer’ (or tougher). I then looked at my rubrics and discovered that I was giving 1 point out of 5 for an incorrect structure, or poor English. The trick was then to do some Maths and check whether works with poor learning outcomes could have a pass with that rubric, and Eureka!, I found out that many rubrics were making things too easy for my student. From a scale from 0 to 5, if you don’t have a 2,5, it is of no use to mark that work. You’re giving points for something which blatantly doesn’t meet the minimum requirements. 

Another issue is the one concerning the integration of content and language in rubrics. Most rubrics contain a section where the teacher can indicate if the students has a good level of English or shows good use of terminology. This ‘saves the day’ for most of us, but it is not a CLIL rubric. If we are integrating language in an appropriate way, we should be developing students’ language functions concerning the task in hand. For example, if we are working with experiments, and helping students to hypothesize, students should master hypothesizing structures such as: “It may…” “It’ll probably”, “It is possible that…”. A specific item in the assessment criteria should make reference to this type of language, and the learning outcomes concerning this. It is not just a matter of assessing, including this assessment criteria in the rubric means that we have integrated the learning of this language function in our lessons, and that students have had the opportunity to practise this language function inside (and/or outside) the classroom.

To sum up, my experience with rubrics is that of ‘constant learning‘, and I am now aware of many issues I have to take into account when designing a rubric (which I was not aware of before). All in all, I believe that rubrics are a great tool to assess students’ learning in a more appropriate way, and providing them with the feedback they need to do better next time.

What’s your experience with rubrics? Are you using them? 


Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


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2013 in review – Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! Let’s start 2014 by doing two things. First, I’d like to ask you all about which topics would you like to see covered in my next posts here. I’d be very thankful if you can provide me with ideas. If you would like me to review articles, books, etc., please let me know.

Second, let’s have a look back at how this blog progressed in 2013. WordPress has prepared this wonderful summary to know interesting statistics about this site. I hope you like it!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Reviews


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New Postgraduate Course: Expert in CLIL – Virtual Learning

After one hard year of work, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be co-directing a new postgraduate course: Expert in Content and Language Integrated Learning. This academic programme is focused on improving teachers’ profiles to cope with bilingual education contexts by using the CLIL pedagogical approach. The Course is on-line with 3 optional face-to-face sessions which will take place on Campus. It will run from February to June, and it is composed by 24 ECTS. Participants will take three compulsory subjects to establish the fundamentals of the teaching-learning process using CLIL, and they will have the chance to choose 3 optional subjects, which deal with topics such as Social Sciences, Arts, Science, Using Stories, Classroom Management, or Coordinating a Bilingual Project (this last subject will have a face-to-face module which will take place in Madrid).

Offering this postgraduate course is not a matter of chance, our University College has been training teachers to offer Bilingual Degrees for 10 years now, and I have been coordinating the methodological training of teachers from 2008. Also, lecturers participating in the Expert Teaching Staff are well experienced in the implementation of CLIL in their classrooms, and many of them are involved in research projects which revolve around bilingual education and CLIL.

 If you are interested in obtaining more information about this Postgraduate Course, you can visit our webpage (information in English will be available soon), and/or contact me via email: raquel.fernandez@cardenalcisneros. Thank you all in advance for spreading the word.

Cardenal Cisneros University College offers an Expert in CLIL Postgraduate Course - Campus

Cardenal Cisneros University College offers an Expert in CLIL Postgraduate Course. Source of Photo:


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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Wall of Fame- Selection of blogs

Students' blogs

Students’ blogs

It’s been so hard to choose one single blog for the Wall of Fame, that I’ve had to pick up more than one this time. My students are doing a great job reflecting on the issues raised in the classroom. That’s the case of Eduardo Aguilar, he is good at selecting key points seen in class, but also at expanding them with more materials and resources. You can have a look at his blog here:

One of the main topics these last two weeks has been POETRY. I consider that it is necessary to make a shift in the way we deal with poetry in class, so that children can find a way to enjoy it. Some students have been writing on this topic. For example, Nuria Márquez talks about the digital tool we are using to create a Poetry Book, Storybird. The main aims is to enhance their creative writing and to discover a digital tool they may like to use with their pupils in the future. You can see Nuria’s blog here:

Rebeca has also been dealing with poetry in her blog, and she has linked the techniques and strategies seen in class with CLIL. We have also discovered that we can use poetry to make content lessons more dynamic, interactive and communicative.  You can see Rebeca’s blog here:

If you would like to explore digital tools to create stories in class, Alberto Zapata knows best J. Visit his last post and you will get complete information about how to use digital tools to work with stories and creative writing:

If you would like to read more on the I Can Tell It workshop my students organised this week, you may like to visit Alberto’s blog and Leticia’s blog : It is great to read about the contents of each workshop and how much they enjoyed the experience. 

Last, but not least, María has written an excellent post on Readers Theatre. She tells us about what we did in class, and she expands the information with useful videos and information on this drama activity. You can see her work here:

If you’re visiting my students’ blogs, don’t hesitate to leave comments and participate actively in the activity. They will appreciate your comments and suggestions. Thanks for collaborating.



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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized


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What’s the role of English in Higher Education?

What’s the role of English in Higher Education? This was the main topic of an event which took place in Segovia (Spain) last week, as reported by the University World News. The British Council, in collaboration with the IE University organised this international meeting where universities from different countries worldwide and experts from the British Council and the European Commission were involved. The key issue of the meeting was to discuss the implications of offering English courses and programmes at university and to reflect on the quality of this academic offer.

It is no surprise that most universities are pursuing EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) programmes as a way to increase their reputation. EMI programmes attract international students to their institutions, and improve undergraduates’ profiles to match the needs of an increasingly demanding labour market. According to the UWN article, many institutions are aware of the need to implement the ‘mother tongue + 2’ objective set by the European Commission, and consider EMI programmes to be an opportunity of improving the quality of university teaching. However, there is still much debate on how this can be achieved in a short period of time.

From my point of view, we are mixing two ideas. One is that English should become ‘a lingua franca’, and the second is that English should become THE language of higher education. In my opinion, all university students should be helped and trained to have a good command of English, as this will help them not only in their professional but also everyday lives. That said, the way we are going to improve students’ communication skills in English is another debate, however I don’t consider a completely monolingual programme to be a valid option. It is not how often you teach in English, it is how well you do it, and here we deal with the issue of methodology. Is EMI good just because we are delivering subjects in the English language? Are all EMI programmes successful? I’m afraid not.

Will English become the lingua franca in HE?

Will English become the lingua franca in HE?

From the meeting held in Segovia, issues were raised on two main areaspolicy implications for successful delivery of EMI courses, and “practical implications of EMI: methodology, quality and assessment’. In the first session, participants raised awareness on the danger of launching EMI programmes without prior training and preparation. Obviously, many institutions want to rush to offer the same academic degrees their counterparts are implementing, but organising a good EMI programme means a minimum training period of 1 year, according to my own experience. Also, participants mentioned the need to embed administrative and academic structures to support EMI projects. This is essential, as the EMI programme is a University academic proposal, in which everybody is involved in some way or another.

Regarding the second session, on the practical implications of EMI. Participants considered that this could be a ‘tool for improving the quality of teaching’. I couldn’t agree more. I consider that pedagogy has been disregarded in Higher Education Institutions. Many lecturers are leading experts in their fields of specialisation, but don’t know how to create knowledge in their classrooms. If we help these people to communicate more effectively, to work on higher-order thinking skills, to scaffold their input, etc, we are going to get better, long-term and more effective learning. Also, they will be provided with a set of teaching tools which are easily transferable to their classes taught in their mother tongue.

Another issue raised in the second session was the difficulty of establishing shared policies regarding language testing, and the need to compensate EMI teachers for this extra work they are doing. Bilingual projects in Spain have chosen Cambridge ESOL and Trinity Exams to assess students’ performance in terms of language competence. However, this is making many academic programmes suffer from the so-called washback effect. Besides that, I wonder what would happen if we measured the success of EMI programmes in terms of the 4Cs proposed by Do Coyle: Cognition, Content, Communication and Culture. Language performance is just a leg of EMI programmes.

All in all, I’m confident about the work Universities are doing to provide students with better instruction in or through English. The main issue that should be raised is that everything starts with the training provided to teachers. If head departments are happy just checking the English competence of their lecturers, EMI programmes will not be making the most of this opportunity of improving teaching-learning quality in Higher Education.

If you are interested in knowing more about how  our CLIL teacher training degrees are organised, please visit this link.

Note: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/


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I Can Tell It Workshop

What happens when you have a group of wonderful students willing to learn and become the best teachers ever? THIS is what happens. Today my 4th year Primary Teacher Training Students (Bilingual Group) designed 6 workshops focusing on 6 different fairy tales. They were prepared to welcome 2nd-year Primary children coming from the State Bilingual School Daoiz y Velarde, Alcalá de Henares (thanks to Rosa and all the teaching staff there!) The activity was part of the subject “Children’s literature in English”, and involved the use of ICT (I Can Tell It) to retell popular fairy tales. It revolved around the idea of a boring wizard who had disorganised fairy tales. Children, with the help of characters, had to retell these stories! 

As you can see in the photographs (and video) here they have worked hard to contextualise the story appropriately in each of the classrooms. They have used visuals, costumes, even music! Also, they have created effective activities dealing with all the communicative skills. As a boost to use new technologies, twitter was used to report on what we were doing and to share experiences.The ICT Department helped us to spread the word #unProyectoparaTIC

Children have enjoyed the workshops and students have applied their ideas into practice! What a great opportunity to keep on learning and to enjoy together!

Thanks for your work, my Explorers! #cuccicantellit @cucc_educacion


CLIL students ready to start “The three little pigs” workshop



Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


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