opinion

El papel de la emoción o en busca de la C perdida

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El otro día leía en Twitter una noticia relativa a una publicación educativa que aseguraba que la neuroeducación está validando la extendida opinión de que el aprendizaje está determinado fundamentalmente por la emoción. “¡Noticias frescas!”, exclamé. Sin embargo, me di cuenta de que, aunque esto sea obvio para cualquier docente en su quehacer diario en el aula, no lo es para el conjunto del sistema educativo, ya que carecemos de la cobertura y herramientas para aprovechar al máximo este descubrimiento.

Echando la vista atrás, no fue hasta las décadas de los 60/70 cuando la psicología y la pedagogía se dieron la mano y se reforzó el ‘lado emocional’ de la educación. En la enseñanza de idiomas adicionales fue en esta época cuando se promulgaron métodos tan curiosos como  la “Suggestopedia”. Su propulsor, un egipcio llamado Caleb Gattegno, aseguraba que era necesario ‘desugestionar’ al sujeto antes de que pudiera realizar un aprendizaje efectivo. Para ello, se ayudaba de música barroca, textos leídos a media voz, sofás y una luz tenue. Si esto es parece bizarro, imaginaos la cara que pondrían ellos al vernos todo el día frente a una pantalla iluminada.  ¿Hemos perdido la emoción en nuestra sociedad?

Francisco Mora, catedrático de Fisiología Humana en la Universidad Complutense, y catedrático adscrito de Fisiología Molecular y Biofísica en la Universidad de Iowa, EEUU, aporta algo de luz a mi pregunta. En su colaboración con Carlos Arroyo en el blog de sociedad de El País apunta a la definitiva unión del binomio “Cognición-Emoción“. Para ser más exactos, “Emoción-Cognición“, ya que el cerebro primero pasa la información por la emoción y luego por la cognición, según sus palabras. Así pues, la emoción es inherente al ser humano en todo proceso cognitivo. (¡Qué interesante!) Además va más allá, asegurando que aprendemos para sobrevivir, y que, por tanto, el que aprende menos suele vivir menos. Tener una mente abierta al aprendizaje, y por ende, a la emoción, nos hace estar más capacitados para la supervivencia.

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¿Pero cómo podemos llevar todo esto a las aulas? ¿Cómo podemos potenciar el lado emocional del aprendizaje para hacerlo más duradero y útil? Marta Palomar, del Instituto Superior de Estudios Psicológicos, nos da algunas claves que intentaré analizar aquí. Para empezar, parece obvio que cada etapa de nuestra vida tiene diferentes momentos de aprendizaje. Es decir, no se trata de que cuanto mayor nos hacemos, menos aprendemos, sino que tenemos picos de actividad, y algunos periodos son más activos que otros. Así pues, debemos cuidar de que los niños tengan entornos que favorezcan el aprendizaje desde etapas tempranas. Para poder conseguirlo tenemos que favorecer el contacto de los niños con la naturaleza, y favorecer el movimiento físico. Esta es una metodología muy común en países como Finlandia y Alemania, por ejemplo, y en centros de carácter experimental-innovador como las escuelas-bosque.

De acuerdo con Palomar, el sistema se vuelve menos sensible a las necesidades emocionales de los estudiantes según estos van creciendo. De manera que cuando el cerebro ya tiene pleno potencial emocional, por así decirlo, es cuando los estudiantes son expuestos a materias de corte racional (y Palomar cita la biología y la física, por ejemplo). Admito que no estoy del todo de acuerdo con esta idea, ya que considero que estas materias no son racionales ‘per se’, sino que depende de la manera en la que se enfoque la asignatura. Esa es la impresión que tengo de lo que veo en mi día a día en el Centro Universitario Cardenal Cisneros. Conozco a profesores de asignaturas de corte científico que realizan numerosas actividades que acercan a los estudiantes los contenidos y ayudan a desarrollar las competencias a través de la experiencia (y por tanto, de la emoción). Otra cosa es que el currículo escolar o los materiales didácticos utilizados pasen por alto esta dimensión, o que hayamos cometido el error de meter las asignaturas en ciertos compartimentos estancos (el aprendizaje no sabe de cajones).

Exactamente pasa lo mismo con la aplicación de CLIL. En diversas ocasiones os he comentado que creo que la utilización de las 4 Cs: Contenido, Comunicación, Cultura y Cognición, ayudan al profesor a desarrollar actividades y herramientas que ayudan al estudiante a realizar un aprendizaje efectivo. Sin embargo, nos faltaba subrayar que en esa palabra mágica: “Cognición”, está también escondida, como la otra cara de la moneda, la “Emoción”. Quizás ésta sea la C perdida, el quinto elemento del entramado CLIL. No podemos enseñar en una lengua adicional si pasamos por alto la ’emoción’, y para buscar la ’emoción’ de chavales que rondan los veinte años hay que dar, desde mi punto de vista, un paso previo: conocerlos, escucharlos, observarlos. Aquí os doy algunas ideas que me han servido para trabajar aspectos emocionales en el aula:

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Write a letter to your students and ask them to do the same. Ask them about their hobbies, their families, their worries and their expectations on the subject you’re teaching or on the degree in general. Te permitirán, además, saber el nivel inicial de lengua de tus alumnos, y conocerás cuáles son las áreas en las que puedes trabajar. Si alguien comparte sus talentos artísticos, deportivos, etc., tenlos en cuenta para las actividades que vayas a desarrollar. Deja espacio para que puedan integrar sus habilidades a la par que llevan a cabo las tareas de clase ¡les ayudarán!

Create student cards with ‘unusual’ categories such as your most embarrasing  moment, or the happiest day in your life. Geniales para revisar el uso de tiempos verbales en pasado. Se pueden organizar con algo de “scaffolding” utilizando la estructura 1,2,3,4 de Aprendizaje Cooperativo. Primero trabajan individualmente, luego comparten en parejas, después en pequeños grupos, y finalmente con el grupo entero. Puedes organizar un Talk Show sobre el tema.

Use poetry, songs or short short stories to discuss on a particular issue seen in class. No olvidéis la literatura, por favor. Si estáis trabajando sobre biología o física, hay relatos recopilados en antologías editadas por Isaac Asimov que son una maravilla (fáciles de leer, y con un montón de potencial para debatir en clase). Recopila materiales que puedan unirse al temario de tu currículum para tenerlos a mano. Para poemas sobre cualquier tema, recomiendo los volúmenes escritos o editados por Pie Corbett.

Use drama-based activities, such as describing an initial scene, and inviting students to imagine what they would do in that situation, and write a dialogue to perfom the scene. No sé qué haría sin mis drama-based techniques. Crear diálogos que respondan a situaciones concretas es una técnica que podéis emplear en cualquier asignatura. Si no habéis trabajado con guiones de teatro antes, incluir una fase previa en la que los estudiantes puedan familiarizarse con el género. Una buena fuente de ideas es la página de Dominic Streames, efltheatreclub.

Espero que el post os haya resultado interesante. No dudéis en comentar 🙂 See you next time!

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What’s the role of English in Higher Education?

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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/ http://www.freedigitalphotos.net.

4th Day at the Bilingual Campus

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We finished our Bilingual Campus with a day on Culture (or Community or Citizenship, depending on the authors :)). We started the morning sessions with Edward Marks, from Building English Language School (Madrid), who gave a talk entitled “Art, Culture and Language Learning”. His motto for this session was: Your classroom is a canvas; your classroom is your world. And during the session he presented English as a ‘land’ full with possibilities, as this image show.

English is full with possibilities
English is full with possibilities

His was a very practical, dynamic and interactive session full with ideas to make the most of a work of art using TPR, Theatre, Music and Science as the main elements. Participants enjoyed putting his ideas into practice, and considered that his crosscurricular perspective of teaching was really interesting. Even though he admitted that his teaching conditions are very different from the ones a Primary teacher may have, as he is running a Language School, he also highlighted the idea of the teacher as an active ‘player’ in class which helps students think and speak as much as possible.

Edward Marks
Edward Marks

The second morning session was run by prof. Josue Llull, one of my colleagues, and the wisest person I have ever known 🙂 He works in the field of Social Sciences, and this time he concentrated on Heritage Education. In his talk he emphasized how important heritage is, and how heritage is linked to affection and respect. For this reason, heritage education should be included in Infant and Primary Education. He believes that teachers can introduce activities and projects working on Heritage Education in their classrooms, but that they can also benefit from the many resources which are available on the Internet. In fact, he presented some nice ideas from the Kids’ Council of the National Trust in England , and an experience he has conducted with University Students using a blog. Finally, he invited us to use his blog to find out more ideas and practical resources.

Josué Llull
Josué Llull

After Josue’s session, it was time for the farewell party. Josue and Matthew thanked all the people involved in the organisation of the event, our Student Helpers, Rebeca and Alberto, the Campus Secretary, Rocío, our Assistant teachers, James and Ana, and of course! they thanked all people participating for their enthusiasm and active role during the sessions. Then, they shared out the Course Certificates (Congrats to all of you!), and the American BBQ party was started (we joined Americans in their 4th July celebrations!).

American BBQ
American BBQ

We hope this was a nice experience for everybody, and see you next time, hopefully in the 4th Edition of our Bilingual Campus!

3rd day at the Bilingual Campus – Communication

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Our 3rd day at the Bilingual Campus was devoted to Communication. We started the morning sessions with Sheena Mitchell (Macmillan ELT Trainer) who presented a workshop entitled “Skills for CLIL”. Sheena went through four main skills she believes CLIL teachers should have and CLIL students should acquire and develop; these are a) activating prior knowledge; b) go for more cognitive language; c) work on more academic and subject-specific language; and finally d) metacognition (learning to learn). To put these areas into practice we worked with several techniques and resources, such as the KWL charts, mindmaps, etc.

Making questions with Sheena
Making questions with Sheena

From her session, I highlighted two main ideas. The first one is that CALP is a very important issue in the CLIL classroom, and it is very important to integrate it. We cannot teach the lesson as if our students were native English speakers and then stop the lesson to revise a language point, which may be disconnected from what they are doing. It is extremely important to support input and output so that students can develop their CALP while learning the content.

The second important thing I took from Sheena’s session is questions. It is very important to make the appropriate questions and I’m not just thinking about the teacher as the question-maker, students should learn to make appropriate questions. I loved how Sheena connected this idea to thinking skills, and talked about skinny questions and fat questions, based on Dale and Tanner’s proposal.

From a more practical point of view, she brought some interesting resources in the class. We learned how to use hulla hoops to make ven diagrams, how to make the most of wordwalls and eva foam :). Also, she shared how to make youtube work without having those disturbing ads around. Just by typing the word “quiet” after www. in the browser, these will disappear.

The second session of the day was conducted by my colleague, Matthew Johnson. His session was focused on Scaffolding input and output. What I loved most of Matthew’s session is that he not only talked about main issues concerning CLIL but put them into practice while explaining them. This is something I miss much in seminars. Many experts talk about how student-centred teaching-learning is very important, but they do it using a teacher-centred, lecture-based session!

Matthew's session
Matthew’s session

Matthew talked about the concept of scaffolding, how teachers may conceptualise it in very different ways, and how we can implement it in class. To do so, participants’ voices were heard and considered. After this, we reflected on why texts may be considered difficult in the CLIL classroom and we discovered that the difficult thing is really the task, not the text. Then, Matthew gave a wide range of ideas to work with texts in the classroom, activating schemata, and enhancing students’ comprehension. The session was so active and interesting that participants didn’t want to stop (even if it was lunch time!)

CLIL teachers scaffolding
CLIL teachers scaffolding
CLIL teachers scaffolding a text
CLIL teachers scaffolding a text
CLIL teachers creating a poster
CLIL teachers creating a poster
CLIL teachers enjoying presentations
CLIL teachers enjoying presentations

In the afternoon, participants had the chance to meet Joseph Parkin (Edelvives Phonics Trainer) presenting a talk on Pronunciation, and they also participated in an interactive Theatre play entitled “A tribute to Catherine of Aragon and the Fallen at Flodden Fleid”, conducted by Soirée Creations.

And today… let’s go for CULTURE!

III Foro Nebrija

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Last Thursday the 3rd edition of the Nebrija Foro was held in Madrid. This one-day seminar aims to provide participants with the opportunity of listening to CLIL experts and/or practitioners, and get to know trendy topics and shared concerns. I would like to share some of the conclusions I drew from the sessions I attended.

First, in my view, there is a huge concern about the ‘digital component’ in education and, more specifically,

Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern
Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern

in CLIL. Almost all sessions mentioned the key role digital tools can play to develop cognition, interaction, collaborative work, etc. I admit I’m also exploring this, as I’m now getting training on the use of different digital tools in education, but I also think that we should be cautious: it is not the tool we use, it is what we do with it. Using Twitter in my lessons won’t make my students use their HOTS (High Order Thinking Skills) automatically. Hence, the tricky point here is not digital tools but PLANNING. If we train teachers how to plan effectively, they will make the most of any resource (digital or not). In any case, it is true that new generations are digital-native, and we should find ways to learn ‘the language’ they feel more comfortable with 😉

Second, there is a progressive tendency to replace Culture (one of the four Cs put forward by Coyle) with Community (which was proposed by Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols (2008). This does not come as a surprise, taking into account what I have mentioned in the paragraph above. That is, the word ‘community’ is linked to the digital world everywhere. Also, I guess that Culture may be a misleading concept for practitioners: “is it the Culture of the English-speaking cultures?” “my culture?” This is a clear shift towards ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)

Third, believe it or not, I gather that there isn’t consensus about what CLIL is. I still consider that there are many experts talking about EFL or ESL and labeling this as CLIL (and this is not so!). In one of the talks, CLIL was defined as “the term for the European version of bilingual education”. In my opinion, this is not a fair definition. First, Teaching in a Foreign/Second Language is not necessarily CLIL. There are ‘bad’ bilingual practices, and CLIL tries to make the most of bilingual education. Second, I really think that there isn’t a unique European version as such, many models coexist, and this is not CLIL all the time.

The following point I’d like to make is a warning note on the ‘search for’ recipes to implement CLIL. Even if I agree on the need to establish common ground so that not everything is labelled as CLIL, I also see that some people try to ‘sell’ ‘the CLIL didactic sequence’, and this can be a disaster if it is applied literally to any classroom. In fact, sticking to a foreseeable structure will spoil the ‘variety’ factor CLIL plays with. The student should be constantly challenged and engaged.

And last, but not least, some Bilingual Projects are in urgent need of an integrated curriculum encompassing integrated objectives and a major shift in the English language subjects. It is paradoxical that CLIL content teachers are applying innovative techniques and strategies whereas EFL teachers are still dealing with the present perfect with the same group in the next hour! Literacy should be included in the English Language Curriculum, as the projects set by the British Council/Ministry of Education have been doing for many years now.

Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education
Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education

Regarding the more practical workshops, I believe that some work should be done to provide Primary Teachers with tools to support their students’ reading comprehension. Some tips I can think of is to use colours for keywords, add pictures to reinforce understanding, and show alternative terms for a concept or idea. We shouldn’t forget that there are less able students that need to have clear scaffolding when dealing with texts.

Once again, this Foro is a great opportunity to meet people, exchange ideas and experiences and start up new projects with colleagues from other institutions. I’d like to thank the organisers for this wonderful opportunity to talk about Bilingual Education and CLIL.

Images have been obtained from: http://actualidadnebrija.com/2013/06/28/educacion-bilingue-estrategias-y-nuevos-retos/

Assessment and bilingual education

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Thanks to prof. Ana Halbach I had the chance to meet some of the teachers who started the bilingual project in Madrid in 2004. We were researching their training and perceptions about the project. At that time, many of them stated that they wanted to seize this opportunity as one that would grant students an authentic experience of language learning. “Communication will be the focus now “, most of them said.

Seven  years later many of those teachers find that, although they have achieved a communicative classroom working THROUGH English, assessment fails to be parallel to this progress.  “I don’t understand why children should be exposed to such a pressure when their language gains are evident”. “ I sometimes think that the administration does not trust us as evaluators of their progress” “English exams move the focus to language again, and everything we we’re fighting for is lost with this kind of assessment”. These are some of the comments I have heard along the last months and that prove that something must be done with assessment procedures.

I believe that good bilingual teaching does not need for external evaluators to check children’s language proficiency. What is more important is that children can use the language in natural contexts and can engage in high-order thinking process using English. This can be checked by observing students work in the classroom.  Language exams could be then used to check progress after some years (at least let’s wait for children to reach 11-12yrs old and have some abstract thinking!).

Watch out. We run the risk of teaching “for the exam” again. I see many teachers working at bilingual schools preparing long lists of vocabulary and structures which “are in the exam”. If that’s the only reason to teach them and not communicative aims, English will again be a dead language.

How is assessment organised in your country? Which other types of assessment could be included?  Do you consider Trinity/Cambridge exams a good option?

CLIL-ing in me softly. Defining CLIL.

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It is interesting how specialists all over the world are trying to define CLIL. The first definition was written by the European Commission and tried to consider it as an “umbrella term”. In 2002 David Marsh provided the (probably) most quoted description:

CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.

Little by little the “umbrella” seems to be described more accurately, as teachers become more familiar with CLIL in practice. In other words, practice is shaping the concept of CLIL , and it is helping to determine what can be considered CLIL and what it is not, by any means, teaching through a foreign language.

An example of this is the distinction between soft and hard CLIL I’ve come across thanks to the work of Keith Kelly and Phil Ball. Soft CLIL stands for teaching content through the medium of a foreign language but with predominantly linguistic objectives. Teachers involved in soft CLIL will put language issues in front of their syllabus, and use content to give a framework for them. In my opinion, this is a more EFL version of CLIL, as most EFL teaching in the last decades has been topic-based but language oriented. Different methodological techniques may apply, though.


imagenes para blog

On the other hand, hard CLIL stands for teaching content through the medium of foreign language with content objectives at the front. That is, language is relevant as much as it is needed to progress in the learning of content, but THERE IS, and MUST BE, language awareness, more specifically at the level of discourse and functional language.

After seven years working on researching and studying bilingual education, I am more inclined to consider the definition of hard CLIL much closer to my idea of what integrating content and language is. If we really want to use any foreign language as a communicative tool in the classroom, content cannot be enslaved to language. Quite the contrary, the real integration appears when we are able to determine which language we need to help our students to access that content, to work with it, analyse it, assimilate it,  and create with it. That’s my view.

Further reading on the definition of CLIL  What is CLIL? by Phil Ball (onestopenglish)