The Research Course - Centro Colombo Americano


The Research Course - Centro Colombo Americano
Rigoberto Castillo, Ph.D
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
Nathalia R.Díaz C.
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas1
Guiding Teacher-Researchers
to Narrate their Stories: The
Research Course
This paper presents some considerations for the design of a research course that aims at refining
the student-teachers’ inquiry and completing their report to make it public. A class of a licensure
in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is represented in this publication by a student’s
voice and by the professor’s voice. The writers reflect a course that prepares pre-service teachers
to narrate the stories of their empirical, that is, data-based research. Six of those stories are
presented in this volume of the Memoirs of the Colombo symposium “Practices that matter.”
We, at Universidad Distrital felt this 70th anniversary event of the Binational Center was a golden
opportunity to ‘exchange experiences on the trends in ELT in the Colombian context’. In order to
follow the EFL stories produced in the research course, subject of this paper, readers may refer to
the papers in this volume by: Bohórquez, Díaz and Wilches’ on creative writing; Cabezas, Flórez
and Camacho’s on gender positioning; Cáceres and Palacios’ on critical thinking; Castillo and
Camelo’s on parental involvement; Rojas’ on Environmental Care; Garzón & Cataño, Chaparro &
Martínez on Life project construction. It is hoped that in this paper the reader finds a rationale and
some principles that may guide the design of a research course.
The authors express their gratitude to Professors Eliana Garzón and Fabio Bonilla and to the many
other colleagues at the Licenciatura en Inglés at Universidad Distrital who supported the inquiries of
the student-teachers whose work inspired this paper.
Beginner teacher-researchers struggle to find their voices in order to feel represented when they
narrate their understanding of the complexities of the classroom, when they attempt to share their
reflections and their contributions to teaching. Learning to report research presents challenges of
many kinds: language use, relevance, rigor, conciseness as well as completeness, among others.
Therefore in designing the research component of a program or research course, professors
need to balance tasks that promote understanding of issues, organization of the literature, data
management and writing (Peterson and Hagen: 1999 p. viii-x) to produce a cohesive and coherent
The rationale behind a language teacher research course
Johnston and Irujo (2001, p.6) tell a short story of language teacher education research in which
they cite that in 1987 only eight language teacher studies of the previous ten years were based
on empirical evidence. In 2012 we are pleased to register seven student-teacher research reports
based on empirical evidence as a testimony of the research component at a teacher education
program and that reflect a trend in the field, which indicates that the interest lies in what we find
rather than on what we think. To meet that challenge, it is argued here that education courses
should aim at promoting innovation by focusing on the intersection of teaching and research.
The education of teacher-researchers makes part of the conviction that today’s teachers need
to recognize Agency in the classroom. As Leo van Lier puts it: “The main principle involved
in agency is that learning depends on the activity and the initiative of the learner, more so than
on any “inputs” that are transmitted to the learner by a teacher or a textbook. This does not, of
course, diminish the need for texts and teachers, since they fulfill a crucial mediating function,
but it places the emphasis on action, interaction and affordances, rather than on texts themselves.
Although this is nothing new if we take seriously the writings of Comenius, Vygotsky, Montessori,
Dewey and many other educational thinkers over the centuries, it is good to remind ourselves of
the wisdom of this fundamental pedagogical principle”.(Van Lier 2008 p.1).
It is claimed here that the research course works for helping student-teachers recognize the
dynamics in language classrooms and that helping them understand agency can help creating
learning environments favorable to the emergence and development of it. Being consequent
with the stated above, the paper presents the student-teacher-researcher’s voice and then the
professor’s voice.
The student-teacher researcher’s voice
When I started my project it seemed like an endless task. It took me a lot of reading for narrowing
down a topic of inquiry and a lot more for making decisions on the research method and on finding
a style to express my voice. Furthermore, it took me time to analyze, contend or incorporate my
professors’ or my peers’ feedback. Looking back I can say that I learned to be humble to accept
my limitations and proud to position myself when I felt I had the evidence to back up my claims.
For narrating my story I found very useful to analyze examples of other studies related to my topic.
I could get a better idea of what I wanted, on how others had conducted the study, and even if it was
worth doing it. This familiarization helped me find my style. Journal articles, books, thesis and
monographs, in that order, inspired me into what should be included, and what language to use.
For finding my voice I learned that I needed to find a balance between conciseness and
completeness. At first, I wrote a lot about the same idea, like going in circles. The course exercises
such as peer editing, and using WordleTM (to obtain a visual representation of your draft) helped
me greatly. It also took me hours of proofreading to learn to make my point for readers to follow.
For pursuing my work and not to give up trying I learned to accept my classmates and my
professors’ feedback graciously. At the start I was so involved in the project that I was annoyed by
comments I did not want to hear about the scope or about the limitations of my project. Laborious
work with the APA style allowed me to integrate the feedback on the formal aspects of the report
while constant review of the literature allowed me to address the issues of scope and validity.
For completing the report I learned to make decisions on relevance. I sometimes got carried
away with a topic and included long discussions that lost the reader. I had to learn to make
sure that all the pieces fit together and reminded myself that the report had to be self-contained
and comprehensible. I also learned from my peer’s work; I took note of what they had included,
discarded and how they presented their work.
To wrap up I can say that being involved in a research course and carrying out a research study
helped me grow as a person and as a professional, I learned a lot of things that I am sure I will use
in future challenges, I was able to learn the complexities of doing teacher-research, and now I have
a better picture of what it takes to engage in such a demanding task.
The Professor’s voice
To understand the complexities of designing a research course I will briefly describe how the
research component of the Licensure in TEFL is organized at Universidad Distrital. Then, I will
focus on the work that is done in the last semester which aims at the completion of the written
report and at the divulgation of the findings.
In the first four semesters, the research courses study the contributions of philosophy, psychology,
and other disciplines to education. The importance of researching education from different
perspectives is highlighted. Sometimes the program has difficulties to find qualified teachers
to run the courses. In fifth semester, students build the state of the art of a topic in language
education. They consult specialized journals and databases to familiarize themselves with fields
of inquiry. From 5th semester the writing and discussion of their projects is done in English to
develop their L2 academic proficiency. In sixth semester, learners contrast research paradigms
within reports of published studies. In seventh semester, they identify a problem that is worth
researching. They also reason the type of data they should collect and how they plan to do it. In
eighth semester they should be ready to decide on a research design as well as defend a detailed
plan of their pedagogical intervention that would hopefully solve the problem identified. In ninth
semester, they implement their pedagogical intervention, in the form of an instructional design
and start analyzing the data. Finally, in tenth semester they refine their report with the assistance
of their director and three other professors. Although this description looks linear, the process is
cyclical; the novice teacher-researchers refine the problem, the research questions and elaborate
on their constructs.
The 10th semester research course is divided into three subjects. One focuses on academic
writing to meet academic standards using APA. A second subject discusses the feasibility of
the project. Participants need to make a case to demonstrate they have the data to answer the
research questions. Here consistency between what student-researchers are doing and what
they claim they are doing is crucial. The third course emphasizes the relevance of the literature
review (primary sources). Weaving the constructs and the findings of research reports occupy the
attention of this course.
This course also stresses the sustainability of the research projects. How they can make an
impact on the community at the same time as they contribute to the personal and professional
development of the student-teachers. The class talks to teacher-researchers from other
communities who come to the campus or the class makes presentations away from the campus
to share their projects. They receive support to deal with the invisible challenges of presenting
and publishing, as Pearson and Vandrick (2003 p. 5) call it. The three courses are planned in
coordination. The three classes meet three times in the term to present their progress before the
panel with their professors; project directors are invited to attend. Extensive feedback of their
presentations and of their drafts is provided.
Participants evaluate this experience very positively. They state that they build their selfconfidence and feel the vision of their careers expand. However, as the saying goes:with duty
comes a responsibility, at the start of the courses some of the learners’ progress in the research
component is not up to par. So, in designing the research course, provision has to be made
for individual tutoring to help students to catch up. Along those lines, the course needs to
continuously move from the parts to the whole and vice versa so that as participants work in a
section they stay focused on the inquiry, on the research questions and on validity concerns as
well. Communication and feedback constitute the backbone to support these beginner teacherresearchers.
Speaking in general, most projects demonstrate with evidence, that the intervention made a
difference on the learners. Nonetheless many have difficulty to demonstrate that their projects
made a difference in the syllabi or in the school curricula they worked with. This aspect requires
reflection; perhaps a closer institutional connection needs to be made between the university and
the beneficiary schools.
As a corollary, the research course here described aimed at promoting the development of
competences in the learners. It provided guide for novice teacher-researchers to recognize agency,
investment, and their own voices to meet the challenge of moving from inquiry to understanding.
(See Freeman, 1998; Burns, 1999).
This research course attempts to encourage participants to discuss with empirical evidence and
with support of the literature, the existence of a problem that can be solved from pedagogy and
that can be researchable with the resources of time and funding required. It hopes to enable
participants to refine their question posing and to discuss the constructs of the literature review.
The research design recognizes the learners’ agency in their process and the teacher-researcher’s
personal investment in the project. On the other hand, the data analysis should give them the
opportunity to frame and discuss the evidence so as to interpret the results and provide a solution
to the problem that provides insights to other practitioners.
The most important factor is that the overall education of the teacher needs to offer in the
coursework an opportunity to acknowledge “the kinds of investment individuals need to make
in order to sustain and develop quality teaching over the course of a career.” (Minott, 2006:4).
This is precisely the goal of the research component presented in this paper which strives to
help participants find and express their voices and to help them make their contribution public in
academic events and publications.
Burns, A. (1999).Collaborative action research for English language teachers.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Castillo, R. (2002). Pitfalls in Academic Writing. How Journal. Cali: ASOCOPI.
Johnston B. and Irujo S. (2001). Research and Practice in Language Teacher
Education: Voices from the Field. Selected Papers from the First International
Conference on Language Teacher Education. CARLA working papers #19.
Available at:
Freeman, D. (1998) Doing Teacher Research: From Inquiry to Understanding.
Boston: Heinle&Heinle Eds.
Minott, M. (2006). “A Case Study of Four Seasoned Teachers in the Cayman
Islands”. Doctoral thesis. U.K: University of Nottingham.
Pearson C.; S. Vandrick (eds). 2003. Writing for scholarly publication: Behind
the scenes in language education. NJ: Lawerence Erlbaum.
Peterson, J; S. Hagen: 1999. Better writing through editing. McGraw-Hill
Van Lier, L. (2008). Agency in the classroom. Available at:
Universidad Distrital Licenciatura en Educación Básica con énfasis en inglés.
Student-teacher monographs. In press:
Bohórquez, J., Diaz, N., Wilches, C. The Creative writing classroom: A venue
to promote tolerance.
Cabezas, L. Gender Positioning in Debates in the EFL Classroom.
Cáceres, A. Using texts and context of song lyrics to enhance critical thinking.
Camelo, L. Parental Involvement to support their School Children L2 learning.
Cataño, Chaparro, Martínez. “Bilingualism Policies and Its Influence on
Students Life Plan.”
Rojas, M. Sensitizing fifth graders for environmental care in the EFL class.
Johanna Bohórquez
[email protected]
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
Nathalia Díaz
[email protected]
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
Cory Paola Wilches
[email protected]
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
The Creative Writing Classroom: a
Venue for Tolerance Development
This article discusses how creative writing tasks may encourage tolerant behaviors at the same
time as creative potential is promoted. It reports a qualitative study developed in an English
class with thirty seven 10th graders, who were involved in reading, discussing and writing about
tolerance. The teacher-researchers identified that their learners needed ways of understanding
others and of expressing themselves. Therefore, the inquiry was aimed at integrating tolerance
to the course. From observations and from the literature review, the potentialities of creative
writing were recognized. Results indicate that when learners find their own voices they develop an
appreciation for the other language (L2). Participants acknowledged that everybody is entitled to
an opinion and that people should be given the right to express themselves freely. The teacherresearchers felt that through language, participants managed to explore, shape and express their
understanding of tolerance.
Special recognition to Universidad Distrital Professor Rigoberto Castillo who edited this
Tolerance has become a matter of concern and interest in education. Many countries have developed
legislation that defines intolerance issues and proposes solutions. However, such solutions are
not being implemented consistently. (Miyares, 2011). Schools recognize its importance as a
main value for personal and moral growth; yet, as teacher-researchers, we noticed that our tenth
graders seemed not to have developed tolerant behaviors. They constantly mocked and teased
each other creating a classroom atmosphere with outbreaks of rudeness and disrespect. Wiesel
and Barret (2002) describe the presence of intolerance: students disapproving other’s beliefs and
convictions, and not allowing others to live their life as they want. Besides, boys and girls showed
a constant need for peer approval in terms of what they think and how they express their opinions;
their actions and thoughts were somehow influenced by the group’s conception of what was right.
Cervantes and Escudero (2009) established that Colombian citizens do not show competence to
solve conflicts without aggression.
Additionally, Onofrey and Leikam (2004) claim that the lack of tolerance in the school context
generates violent behaviors and actions such as: discrimination, bullying, harassment, and
segregation, and that these ultimately affect society as a whole. We estimate that tolerance
education needs to be a concern of society, not only of schools or families.
Education needs to use the socialization spaces available for the development of social
competences as well (Calvo, 2003; Cervantes and Escudero, 2009; Miyares, 2011). In the
Colombian context, the Ministerio de Educación Nacional describes the role of the school as a
space to educate integral citizens that, besides acquiring disciplinary knowledge, are educated
in values.
When analyzing the preliminary data gathered, we identified that the participants felt uncomfortable
expressing their thoughts and opinions; they were afraid of being subjects of mockery or
aggression. They manifested that these negative behaviors were recurrent and the English class
was not the exception. Participants seemed to manage the concept of tolerance intellectually, but
their behaviors and attitudes did not match with it. We wondered if this mismatch had originated
in the understanding of tolerance they had constructed. Therefore???, we concluded they needed
to evaluate, analyze and build the meaning of tolerance and look for ways to live it in order to
generate a more pleasant learning environment. We agree that “Understanding is the ability to
think and act flexibly with what one knows” (Wiske, 1998, p.40 as cited in Wiggings & MsTighe,
2005, p.48). And we concur with Kwong (2003) who argues that to achieve understanding, ‘You
will search for analogies, relate to previous knowledge, theorize about what is learned, and derive
extensions and exceptions. ’ (para.5)
We also realized they needed chances to share their opinions freely and we established that a
creative writing classroom had the potentialities to be the venue to foster acceptance of the others,
open-mindedness and tolerance. For White and Arndt (1991, p.6) writing constitutes a powerful
construction of what we think, what we imagine, and what we create. They affirm that “writing
as a creative process, is an activity in which each learner’s piece of writing is a creative act, and
learners are responsible for their own texts.” Creativity relates to expression while authorship
implies a construction of identity and ownership that could result in self-confidence and respect
of the others’.
This study followed the principles of the Case Study method (Yin, 2003) which aims at analyzing a
real-life phenomenon inside its specific context. Precisely, this project aimed to explore tolerance
within the English class. To develop our inquiry, we collected data from four instruments: students’
interviews, journals and portfolios, and teacher-researchers’ field notes.
Literature Review
In this section, we will discuss the theories that illuminated the constructs of our inquiry: moral
development, creative writing and values education.
As a framework to promote tolerance in the EFL classroom we examined moral development.
Kohlberg (1971) proposes that morality can be developed through reflecting upon problematic
situations that require you to use higher levels of moral reasoning. He classified six stages of
moral development in three different levels. The first level is called Pre-Conventional, where
people base their morality and behaviors on the punishment or reward they will get. Also there
is a sense of reciprocity: if I do a favor is because I am going to get something in return. The
second level is called Conventional. Here, people consider what is good or bad in relation to
what other people say is good, or to what they think is best for society. The last level is called
Post-conventional. In this case people have a better understanding of rules and how these can be
applied in different contexts; besides, they have the ability to decide whether one rule should be
applied or not depending on the situation, or their own goals or commitments (Kohlberg, 1971,
Allen, 1975). We determined students were on the Conventional Level, at stage three ; in which
people act according to the rules and principles established by the group or community where
they belong, in this case, tenth graders at a school. Having this in mind, we designed a syllabus
that would give learners the opportunity to develop their moral reasoning in terms of tolerance.
Miyares (2011) proposes education as one of the main components to help tackle inequality and
intolerance. As teachers, we need to promote change. With this in mind, we consider that the
development of tolerance-related tasks in the classroom may be translated into tolerant actions in
the social sphere thus generating positive consequences in society. We realized that the L2 class
can be a space to inquire on change. Also, the L2 can be used to teach students to express their
thoughts and opinions. Since the work in class is focused on content, they can also reflect upon
contextualized issues of their interest.
With creative writing tasks we aimed to challenge students to find possible solutions to the
problems they manifested to have with their peers. By reflecting and writing, learners would
become aware of their problematic situations and will start acting on them, converting words into
actions and action into change.
On these thoughts, UNESCO (1994) states that tolerance can and should be involved in the
classroom in every subject, at every level, and in every country. That is, in particular, what this
project aimed to do; take tolerance, a value that seems to be completely alienated from the English
class, and merge it within its contents. In fact, the learning of languages is seen as “one of the
most fruitful avenues for education for tolerance and mutual understanding” (UNESCO, 1994,
p.33) because it is through language that students are able to explore, shape and express their
understandings of cultural values and social customs. When looking at language as a way of
expression, students could use it as a vehicle to share their opinions and thoughts about the world.
That allows them to to find their own voices, and learn that everybody is entitled to an opinion and
that people have the right to express it freely.
We recognized that a creative writing classroom could be a venue for learners to engage in the use
of the L2 while having the opportunity to learn about themselves and about the others. Werder
(as cited in Schlepphege, 1993 p.23) affirms that “creative writing is the production of a text that
develops new forms of expression, communication and self-awareness”. We assumed that by
sharing experiences, learners would develop awareness about the other, about the use of language
to communicate something of importance to them and as a manner to put their creative potential
to the use of their personal growth.
Pedagogical Intervention
The pedagogical intervention was framed under Task-Based Learning (TBL), in which tasks are
defined as “the activities where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative
purpose (goal) in order to achieve a goal” (Willis, 1999, p.23). Thus, ten creative writing tasks
were applied to develop the moral reasoning of these beginner English language learners. Such
tasks were designed to promote the following thinking processes: listing, ordering and sorting,
problem solving, sharing personal experiences, and being creative. In the tasks, the learners had
the opportunity to reflect on their social context while writing different types of creative texts such
as anecdotes, fables, brochures, and articles, as in the example below:
We were able to determine that by analyzing observations and participants’ answers to
questionnaires designed for that purpose.
Figure 1.Annecdote from student 9.
Each task had three parts: brainstorming, organizing ideas, and jotting them down (For other
procedures, see Castillo, 1995). The classes opened with a reading or a video to discuss topics
like discrimination, or guerrilla warfare. Learners related the presentation of the topic to their
previous knowledge, and then they systematized the ideas presented by using graphic organizers
such as mind maps, charts, and word webs. Below you can see a mind map a student created
about a video that presented some intolerant behaviors:
Figure 2. Graphic Organizer from student 2
In the creative writing tasks learners brainstormed to decide on the aspect of the topic they were
going to write about. Then, they outlined their composition using graphic organizers (GOs) that
were devised according to the writing task, so that learners could bring up their ideas and organize
them coherently before converting their thoughts into an original piece of writing; this is illustrated
in the following excerpts:
Figure 3: “Presidential campaign” from student 4
The next stage of the task —the written production—received support from the classroom teacher.
They were asked to choose a genre like anecdote, fable or short story and they were invited to
describe the situation, and write their reflection and evaluation of it. Finally, they shared their
writing. A student’s fable is shown below:
Figure 4: Fable on the topic of discrimination from student 8.
In the development of the tasks it was observed that learners realized they had invested time
and effort in their narratives so they encouraged one another to listen and appreciate the ideas
Data Analysis
For developing the data analysis process we followed the steps proposed in the Grounded Theory
by Corbin and Strauss (1990). This approach suggests that theory is generated in order to explain
the way some aspects take place in the social world. Besides, “[it] seeks not only to uncover
relevant conditions but also to determine how the actor under investigation actively responds to
those conditions…” (p.419). In our case, the aspect is tolerance given in the social context of
the classroom. The data came from teacher-researchers’ field notes, students’ artifacts, journals
and interviews.
We started by developing open coding to uncover what the data was telling us. For that purpose,
the techniques of constant comparison and “Memoing” were used throughout the data analysis.
Axial Coding also took place to confirm that there was a relationship among the categories,
subcategories, and the data. Finally, by carrying out Selective Coding, we were able to bring
together all the categories around a ‘core’ category that explains the main phenomenon explored
in the study (Table 1.). To facilitate the data management, we established conventions. Letters
stand for the participants, instruments, and tasks developed. As follows:
S: Student (the participants were numbered from 1 to 10, e.g. S1, S2.)
T: Task (ten tasks were applied and numbered accordingly: T1, T2, etc.).
J: Journal (there was one journal entry per task).
FN: Field Note (there was one field note per task).
GO: Graphic Organizer
I: interview (two interviews were applied, one at the beginning of the study and the other at the
With these conventions in mind, now we will explain the three categories that emerged in our
study and how they helped us answer our research questions.
Table 1: Categories.
Research Questions
How is students’ understanding of tolerance Core Category:
shaped when engaged in creative writing tasks?
Constructing my view of a harmonious world
Subcategory 1. Reflecting on current issues
Subcategory 2. Sharing my opinion
What are students’ perceptions of tolerance?
A puzzle for harmony
What are students’ insights of their involvement
Although it was in English…
in creative writing tasks?
Constructing my view of a harmonious world
This main category is supported by two aspects that were identified: “Reflecting on current issues”
and “Sharing my opinions”.
Reflecting on current issues. By analyzing the process students followed in each task, we found
that when they reflected on current issues that affected them (related to intolerant behaviors), they
had the opportunity to propose solutions that aimed to pursue everybody’s benefit. According
to UNESCO (1994) and Ruiz (2003), these reflections are an essential part of what education for
tolerance should be: a space where students can act upon their understanding of social values
through the analysis of problems that concern them. During the intervention we also found evident
that students recognized problematic situations in our society that go beyond their school context
or their homes.
We found some examples of this in task #7 where students were encouraged to write a news
report of a situation they were concerned about. Student 10 decided to write about a major
issue in our country illustrated in the excerpt: T7-S10: “sexism in our country (…) woman was
always brutally beaten”. The key words caught our attention; this student referred to a problematic
situation. She mentioned violence against women, showing that she recognized the problem
and she was interested in it and in developing a deeper discussion about this topic. This learner
showed interest in issues that deserve attention.
Sharing my opinion. We noticed that students considered dialoguing as an important feature to
promote an environment of tolerance. They also recognized that by sharing their opinions they
could enrich their knowledge of the world and understand the differences among them. Besides,
they recognized that by expressing what they thought and by dialoging, they could solve different
problematic situations.
This is supported by Pidghirnay de Nieto (2003), who states that communication is an important
axis for the development of values, and language allows you to think critically and analytically
about different complex situations while proposing solutions. UNESCO (1994) also refers to
language as a means of reflection and understanding: “through language we can explore and
express our understanding of cultural values and social customs” (p.83). Language, then, serves
as a vehicle for self-expression and understanding of different points of view. Additionally, through
written language we can develop new ways for expressing ourselves, communicating with others,
and gaining self-awareness (Werder, 1993 as cited in Schlepphege, 2009). This was reflected on
students’ pieces of writing, in which they expressed their opinions and explored their conception
of tolerance upon their reflection on contextualized problematic situations.
The following excerpt from a fable written by a learner illustrates this feature: T5-S6 “so the snake
decided to talk to the mouse to solve the problem.” She expressed that dialog was the solution
for the problem these friends were facing. Similarly, student 4 wrote: T4-S7: “Tim could talk with
the bulling” (meaning bully). In the journal for this task student 2 stated: J5-S2 “hablar y hallar
una solución para el conflicto”.
We also noticed that, besides recognizing talking and sharing as a solution for problems related
to intolerance, students saw it as a way of enriching their knowledge. J8-S4 “…es importante
conocer nuevas personas distintas a ti porque así puedo ampliar mi conocimiento de cultura”. As
we observe, students believed that by sharing their thoughts and who they are, they could enhance
their knowledge and construct a more complex view of the world.
A puzzle for harmony
What tolerance means for participants is examined here as a category. We found that they
characterize it by naming the values they believed encompass tolerance. They also expressed
that besides understanding others and respecting them, it was necessary to take action in order to
generate a positive change in their behaviors towards others.
Students recognized the importance of the presence of other values for tolerance to take place. In
task 1, S10 wonders about the relationship between tolerance and respect and whether we respect
or not: “-you know what is respect? – yes, respect is with tolerance with the people – really, and
you respect the people?” Another example of this is reflected on students’ interviews:
TR: ¿Para ti qué significa ser tolerante?
S2: Ayudar al otro y respetarlo….valorar las cosas de los demás….y también ser honesta,
respetuosa y sincera.
S3: Ser una persona paciente con las demás personas, no ser deshonesto…aprender a
valorar las cosas de la vida y a los demás.
Both participants relate tolerance with other values such as honesty, solidarity, patience, and
valuing people. As Unesco (1994) states: “Each of these definitions reveals differences in
emphasis, culture and historic experience. They are evidence of the very diversity that pluralism
values. Each also encompasses the fundamental essence of tolerance, to respect the rights of
others, ‘the different’, to be who they are, to refrain from harm because harm of the other means
harm to all and to the self.” (p. 21).
Students also see there are actions they can take in order to contribute to the change. For example,
S10, J7: “ayudar a las personas que contribuyen a esto [tolerant behaviors] para poder tener
una sociedad mejor”. We found evidence of the kind of tolerance that Vogt (1997) presents as
engaging in action, that is when people start proposing solutions and getting involved in any kind
of plans that facilitate a tolerant environment.
In Interview 2, participants also express they can do something to contribute to the construction
of a tolerant society:
TR: ¿Qué crees que hace falta para que exista más tolerancia?
S3: mmm…ser más respetuosos…entender más a las personas…y ayudarnos unos a otros.
So, learners go beyond analyzing problematic situations related to intolerant behaviors, they are
proposing solutions that include them and that require for them to do something. They perceive
tolerance as a value that is constituted by other values, and that can and must be promoted by
taking action and seeking for a change.
Although it was in English…
This category describes the insights students had towards their writing practice. We noticed
that they considered there were certain tools that helped them put their ideas together, such as
engaging in discussion and organizing their thoughts. They also expressed that when writing, they
had language difficulties that they managed to overcome while learning English. In addition, they
believed writing was a way to express themselves.
We identified students felt they were able to say what they wanted without feeling conditioned to
what others may think or say as we can see in S8, I1: “[en clase] hacemoscosasdiferentes y digo
lo quequiero, bueno, lo intento (…) fue chévere porque se puede entender mejor el ingles, me
gustaríaque se hicieran mas seguido”. In another interview S2 expressed that even though the
activities were in English, she was able to understand and develop some other skills.
TR: ¿Crees que a través de las actividades de inglés pudiste reflexionar acerca de valores
como la tolerancia? ¿Por qué?
S2: si, aunque era en inglés pero yo entendía y me ayudó a reflexionar y a aprender a
This particular answer gave us the name for this category; it was very interesting to see that
learners saw writing as a vehicle to overcome language difficulties and to practice English as well.
They expressed that although they encountered some difficulties, such as lack of vocabulary and
not being able to express accurately what they though in Spanish, they managed to defeat the
problems along the development of the task while they improved their language skills.
This study reported on how to help beginner learners develop their understanding of tolerance
while involved in L2 creative writing tasks. It proposed the integration of a social value, tolerance,
to a course. The study attempted to respond to these questions: 1. How is students understanding
of tolerance shaped when carrying out creative writing tasks? 2: What are students’ perceptions of
tolerance? 3. What are the students’ insights when involved in creative writing tasks?
The findings suggest that by reflecting on current issues and sharing their ideas in the creative
writing classroom, participants managed to construct their understanding of tolerance, a concept
that for them included several values such as respect, peace, and gratitude.
We could also conclude that while students were engaged in the task they perceived creative
writing as a means of expression that allowed them to reflect on themselves, to better understand
the other and to develop awareness of their social environment.
Brainstorming, organizing and jotting down proved to help learners to understand topics and to
write about them. These pre-task activities contributed to their awareness on the topics and to the
expression with a critical mind. On the other hand, sharing their compositions gave them a sense
of self-worth regarding their own as they expressed in the second interview.
TR ¿Cómo te sentiste desarrollando las actividades de escritura en la clase de inglés? ¿Por qué?
S5:ummm...bien, fue chévere escribir por ejemplo una noticia completa. No sé, le dan a
uno más ganas de escribir.
S7: Bien, a veces era difícil pero igual al final uno siempre terminaba con algo chévere que
uno al principio no creía que podía escribir.
The findings indicate that a creative writing classroom can be a venue for tolerance development.
Learners can be given the chance of constructing their own view of the world and discovering that
learning can be enjoyable. Furthermore, the evidence points to the fact that participants decided
to take action towards any negative behavior. to contest it and modify it in order to help the other.
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Leonardo Cabezas
Universidad Distrital Francisco José De Caldas
Maria Fernanda Camacho
Universidad Distrital Francisco José De Caldas
Leidy Florez
Universidad Distrital Francisco José De Caldas
Gender Positioning in EFL
This article reports on a case study conducted at a school in Bogota. The study was based
on constructivist and poststructuralist frameworks that view gender positioning as a social
construction in language learning contexts (Mckay, 2005; Davis & Skilton-Sylvester, 2004;
Baxter, 2003 Sunderland, 2000; Tannen, 1996, 1990; Holmes, 1991, 1989; Nilsen et al., 1977;
Lakoff, 1975). Such theory provided the foundation for inquiring how ninth grade students’ gender
positioning is constructed and how gendered discourses emerge in EFL debates.
Aiming to understand gender positioning and its possible implications for language learning
and teaching, observations and interviews were carried out and analyzed following Feminist
and Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) principles (Baxter, 2008, pp. 58-79). Findings
suggests that learners view themselves as both masculine and feminine, using their interests and
behaviors as the principal means of defining their gender positioning discursively in EFL debates.
Based on these results, we argue that in learner-learner interactions, gender identities are formed
and social relationships are negotiated which can be significant for students’ success in English
Key words: gender positioning, gendered discourses, EFL debates.
We are indebted to Universidad Distrital professor Rigoberto Castillo who edited this article.
Moving away from positivistic understandings of gender in isolation, this study espouses
constructivist and poststructuralist perspectives on gender and language learning to gain
understanding about how ninth grade students’ gender positioning is constructed and how
gendered discourses emerge in EFL debates. The implementation of debates focused on
controversial issues, in English lessons, allowed us to look into the interaction among male and
female students. As teachers, we encouraged students to examine different viewpoints, to find
areas of agreement and to experience the real world with a safety net of a supportive environment,
in which students constructed gender identities by taking certain positions, defending them, and
altering them.
Literature Review
Over the past decades the study of gender differences in language acquisition and learning has
received considerable attention, although almost all the investigations carried out in this respect
have identified isolated correlations between certain variables, namely gender and achievement,
gender and motivation, gender and learning strategies, gender and cognitive abilities, or gender
and speech styles (Pavlenko, 2004; Baxter, 2003 & Sunderland, 1992)
Turning toward constructivist and poststructuralist frameworks, the notion of gender in language
learning has been reconceptualized (Pennycook, 1994, 1998; Cameron, 2005; Eckert & McConnellGinet, 1992). According to Schmenk (2004, p.154) instead of looking at what males are like and
what females are like and constructing generalized images of male and female language learners
accordingly, critical voices note that language learners are themselves constantly constructing
and reconstructing their identities in specific contexts and communities.
Recent work examining gender from these perspectives (e.g. Baxter, 2002; Cummins & Gill,
1991; Goldstein, 1995; Hruska, 2004; Kline, 1993; Losey, 1995; Pica et al., 1991; Polanyi, 1995)
state that “the way that gender identities get constructed in particular communities may have
very concrete consequences for the kinds of second language proficiency developed by men and
women” (Ehrlich, 1997, p. 435).
The relationship of gender and language learning (Castañeda-Peña, 2007, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c,
and 2009) has pointed out how learners construct themselves discursively as girl or boy debaters.
From a Feminist Post-structuralism view gender is defined as “a system of culturally constructed
relations of power, produced and reproduced in interaction between and among men and women”
(Gal, 1991, p.176) seeking not only for differences, or a breaking point, for example, who is the
best in English language learning, who is the most powerful, which gender is better than the
other, but for a better understanding of gender and its construction inside the foreign language
Regarding learners discourse, several studies have suggested that the role of the learner gender
in the classroom is reflected in talk, in pair and group work. Thus students’ interaction in
controversial debates could influence learners’ gender positioning. For this reason, it becomes
important to understand how male and female students position themselves and each other
through their discourses.
Davies and Harré (1990) connect participation in discursive practices to the theoretical exploration
of social positioning. These authors explore how discourses define the people who use them in
terms of subject positions, that is, socially recognizable categories. However, they also emphasize
that human beings can make choices in regards to their discursive participation, choices that often
stem from an individual’s ‘history as a subjective being, that is, the history of one who has been in
multiple positions and engaged in different forms of discourse’ (1990, p. 48).
On the other hand, debates could be identified as discursive practices used by young learners,
to handle dispute management in which English teachers enable discussion; ensure students’
physical and emotional safety; and build the critical thinking skills of students. As reinforced by
Guzzeti, Peyton, Gritsavage, Fyfe and Hardenbrook (2002, cited in Durán, 2006, p. 134) social
interactions help students to balance face to face interactions in the language classroom and
model students on how to encourage contributions to a group work discussion and how to build
others’ comments. Also, by drawing scholars’ discourses different gender positions are made
available in role (Baxter, 2002, 2003, cited in Castañeda-Peña, 2010, p. 109).
Hahn, Angell and Tocci (1988, cited in Hahn, Carole L., Ann Angell, & Cindy Tocci, 1988, p.
4) stated that when students are allowed to discuss controversial issues in an open supportive
classroom environment there are often positive outcomes for students’ feelings of political interest,
efficacy, confidence, and trust. Trough debates, teachers-researchers encouraged students to
examine different discourses and to position themselves.
In order to explore and understand how EFL ninth-grade students’ gender positioning is constructed
in the implementation of controversial debates; we conducted a qualitative descriptive case study.
Gillham (2000, p.1) defines case study as: “a unit of human activity embedded in the real world;
which can only be studied or understood in context; which exists in the here and now; that merges
in with its context so that precise boundaries are difficult to draw.” This approach allowed teacherresearchers’ to identify and describe students’ gendered discourses and behaviours in the context
they were produced, the EFL classroom.
Setting and participants
The implementation of controversial issues debates took place at a public School located in the
south-east of Bogota. The target population was 40 ninth graders from 14 to 17 years old. Since
our study regards on gender, the participants were 4; 2 Male Students and 2 Female Students. In
order to select the participants, we adopted the typical case sampling strategy (Patton, 2002, p.
236) because participants exhibited certain characteristics from the whole population. These 4
students showed active and reflective participation and the use of English language expressions
when they interacted during the activities.
Data Analysis
The events of gender positioning analyzed in this paper were taken from ninth graders small-group
discussion segments of videotape classroom observations and interview comments, focused on
4 students, 2 female (FS1=female student 1/ FS2=female student 2) and 2 male (MS1=male
student 1/ MS2=male student 2) .
By analyzing the observations, we were able to produce a ‘thick description’ of students’
interaction within the discussion activities (Geertz, 1973, pp. 3–30). During these learnerlearner interactions, one of the teacher-researchers sat next to them, and took notes. In these
lessons, students developed some pre-debate activities such as watching a video or listening
to a song, and discussed for 45 minutes some controversial statements related to topics such
as sex, drugs, environmental awareness, human relationships, etc (e.g., if I consume drugs I
can quit whenever I want). We took into consideration the frequency and the quality of students’
contributions in the debates.
On the other hand, interviews were carried out individually. Students were involved in hypothetical
situations in which they told us what they would do such as: “Uno de sus primos pequeños está solo
en la casa, lo encuentra en el computador ingresando a páginas pornográficas”. Interviews allowed
us to collect data about how the personal stories of students and their experiences with members of
the opposite gender influence the position taken on various issues (Kvale, 1996, p. 149).
When we finished collecting data, we began the process of observations and interviews
transcription. Thereafter, a thematic analysis of the data was developed (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998,
pp. 29-33). To different segments of data, we assigned one or more thematic codes such as
“gender equality”, “male and female roles” and “stereotypes”. Following the principles of the
Constant Comparative Method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, pp.101-115), we grouped thematic
codes according to the patterns we found among them. From this analysis emerged the categories
that lead us to understand how ninth grade students’ gender positioning is constructed and how
gendered discourses emerge in EFL debates.
In order to analyze the categories, we employed Feminist Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis
(FPDA) that includes a micro-analytic descriptive level (denotative) and an interpretative level
(connotative) (Baxter, 2003, pp.75-77).
The categories analyzed were “Pink and Blue talk” and “Best known as”. Through these categories
we aimed to interpret gendered discursive productions of students’ selves in controversial
debates, since understanding of gender positioning involves the analysis of discursive practices
(Davis & Harré, 1990, pp. 218-220).
Pink and Blue Talk!
As we analyzed the patterns throughout the data, we were struck by the prevalence of what we
began to see as ‘gendered discourses’. During the observations and interviews students expressed
their ideas reflecting their positive and negative perceptions about men and women. We found
that gender positioning was ubiquitous on the part of students, but that other kinds of social
positioning were rare in comparison with the interviews. That means, students were far more likely
to apply gender identity categories, such as “Mentirosos” (53), or “Maternales” (110), to other
individuals (Wortham, 2005, p. 32) than they were to apply social categories such as ‘pobre’ or
Hence, “Pink and Blue talk”, refers to gender differences among students through their gendered
language discourses, in which “Pink talk” is understood as students, both girls or boys’ positive
or negative perceptions towards female and, “Blue Talk” as students both girls or boys’ positive
or negative perceptions towards male.
Microanalysis (Denotative level)
Through the description of the students’ discourses (discourse in the sense of ‘ways of seeing
the world’) we analyzed how gendered positions were communicated in the process of learning
a foreign language.
Excerpt 1
Context: TL (Teacher Leidy) showed students a video about a British series called
Skins that deals with different teenagers’ problematics, then students answered
some questions related to characters’ lives, Ss were working by groups, there were
five groups.
See appendix 1 for transcription, conventions, and abbreviations.
52. TL Ss G5: ¿crees que las actitudes y comportamientos de los personajes están
relacionados con su género?
53. FS1 Ss: los hombres son muy irresponsables, eso depende de lo que les guste,
porque utilizan muchas mentiras, para gustarle alguien.
This extract illustrates how FS1 stress her negative perception towards a male character on the
video (53. 55). While in the following excerpt obtained from the interviews we could observe
different things.
Excerpt 2
Context: Interviews were developed outside the classroom. TLo (Teacher Leonardo)
was the interviewer and TM (Teacher Mafe) was videotaping. Q1=Question
Number 1
101. Q3b. TLo MS1: Durante las intervenciones de la clase de Inglés ¿Quiénes
crees que se destacan más: las niñas o los niños? ¿Por qué?
102. MS1 TLo: La niñas, yo creo que las niñas, porque ellas ponen más interés
más ganas al Inglés los hombres no tanto.
109. Q10. TLo FS2: Un amigo suyo le recomienda un curso de inglés, que él está
tomando y le pregunta si usted preferiría tomarlo; tomar las clases con un profesor
o con una profesora ¿usted que haría?
110. FS2 TLo: Por un profesor, porque son más directos al punto de la clase, en
cambio las profesoras son como más maternales más, menos directas.
This sequence shows how MS1 states, that it is easier for women to learn English than for men,
because they are more willing and disciplined to study English than men (102). On the contrary,
FS2 in this case supports her negative opinion about her own gender when she said that female
teachers are more motherhood than male teachers (110).
FPDA Commentary (Connotative level)
The students’ comments, described in the previous section, are the evidences of the relation
between discourse and gender. According to Sunderland (2002), Gender becomes something
that is ‘done’ in context, rather than a fixed attribute. It means that Gender is a construction
produced in discourse, but also how those discourses started to reflect differences between male
and female gender positioning during debates.
Differences between male and female gender positioning found in the excerpts 1 and 2 occur
because, as Law & Chan (2004, p. 167) state, people’s internalized stereotypical differences such
as male as liars, irresponsible (excerpt 1; 53) or girls as willing, disciplined, out of self-interest
or as motherhood (excerpt 2; 102, 108, 110), are formed by different socialization agents (e.g.,
schools) and processes. Nevertheless, it is in those socializations where behaviors and words
start to defined women and men according to certain social norms (Sunderland, 2002).
Furthermore, it is through discourses or storylines (Davies & Harré, 1999, p. 37) within
conversational interactions, in which students are able to reflect those particular roles and
instances culturally coded as ‘gendered’ (Cameron & Kulick, 2003, cited in Holmes & Marra,
2010, p. 6), but also how through those storylines students made their words and actions
meaningful to themselves and the others (Davies & Harré 1990, p. 3).
Finally, people “perform” different selves through the selection of different discourses: this is
called “self-positioning” (Sunderland, 2004, p. 102). The data indicates that gendered discourses,
embedded and /or reflected in the social practices of ELF students inform them with gendered
categories that differentiated students into two opposed groups (girls/females vs. boys/males)
Best Known As: Positions in EFL Classroom
In order to describe students’ identity-building in controversial issues debates, we analyzed
small-group discussion. As a result of the analysis of debates interactions, it was possible to
identify four ways in which students positioned most of the time (Manager, Expert, Humorist and
Helper). Therefore we named this category “Best Known as” because students were identified
in certain positions by themselves and their classmates according to their roles in their social
network, regarding that how language learners “position themselves and are positioned by others
depending on where they are, who they are with and what they are doing” (Davies & Harré 1990,
p. 3. ).
Microanalysis (Denotative level)
We focused on the discourse and interactional features, examining the sequential organization of
talk, including turn-taking and explicit and implicit references to identity and difference.
Excerpt 5
Context: Students watched a video and discussed it for 45 minutes some
controversial statements related to topics such as sex, drugs, environmental
awareness, human relationships, etc (e.g., if I consume drugs I can quit whenever
I want).
MS1 carried out routine tasks when asked to do so by another group member. He
acted in a subordinate position, under the other person’s direction.
FS1 Initiated work, invited ideas, interpreted instructions, gave orders or made
suggestions about who should do what, or how to tackle the task. (Manager)
Excerpt 6
Context: Interviews were developed outside the classroom in an individual way. TLo
(Teacher Leonardo) was the interviewer and TM (Teacher Mafe) was videotaping.
115. Q6 TLo FS2: Uno de sus primos pequeños esta solo en la casa, usted llega
y lo encuentra en el computador ingresando a páginas pornográficas ¿Qué haría
usted y cuál sería su reacción?
116. FS2 TLo: Yo me pondría brava, yo me pondría brava, porque osea es un
niño pequeño, pues no son páginas indicadas…Le diría que eso está mal y trataría
hablar con él.
117. FS2: “…vi en un programa que hay hombres y mujeres que se vuelven adictos
a la pornografía, entonces cuando quieren tener relaciones sexuales el único medio
para excitarse viendo páginas pornográficas entonces se perdería de pronto su
vida sexual más adelante y tendría que hacer eso, porque hay gente que se vuelve
adicta…” (Expert)
By analyzing verbal and non-verbal students’ discourses, we explored the relationship between
their learning and identity-building in EFL classroom debates about controversial issues. The
highlight sections show how students use language positioned themselves. We explored students
discourses and roles in discussions to illustrate how positioning could be used as a tool for
interpreting students’ identity-building as learners of English.
In the next section will explain a range of ways in which students (FS1/ FS2/MS1/ MS2) positioned
themselves, or were positioned by others, during the discussion.
FPDA Commentary (Connotative level)
Student’s participation in language classroom activities such as discussions allowed them to both
reveal and develop aspects of their identities, abilities, and interests, in addition to their linguistic
and content-area knowledge. Information derived from interviews with the students and their
teacher was taken into account, and related to the ways the student was observed to position
himself or herself in class. As a result of the analysis, it was possible to identify a range
of ways in which students (FS1/ FS2/MS1/ MS2) positioned themselves, or were positioned by
others, during the discussion.
Firstly, we have the FS1 who took up the position of Manager when she called the group attention
and suggested her partners to start the discussion by saying something like “Let’s get
started” or simply “Okay?”, Another way of taking a position as Manager was to ask other
members of the group to carry out certain tasks. In some groups the position of Manager was
taken up by different people at different times, but in this case she always occupied this
position during each episode of collaborative work, often because other group members looked
at her as leadership.
In second place, the FS2 took up a position of Expert when she carried authority and influence
during the discussions. She was controlling the whole group. Students are not accepted as
Experts unless their communicative capabilities are respected by the other group members and
no-one else in the group is regarded as “more expert”. For example, on some occasions FS2
easily took up the position of Expert because all the others in the group looked to her for ideas
and explanations.
In the case of male students, we observed that MS1 took up a position of Helper when he carried
out tasks (to write, to look up in the dictionary, to ask to the teacher, etc.), and asked to do so by
another group member and he acted in a subordinate position, under the other person’s direction.
MS2 had the position of Humorist presenting contradictions. Humor can lighten the mood,
relieve tension, help to increase group cohesion, and generally make a English lesson
more enjoyable, but too frequent humour may distract others, and suggests that the Humorist
has failed to take the task seriously. Thus, the MS2 as entertainer distracted both themselves
and others from the controversial discussions, but the extent of the negative impact depended
on how the others responded. If they ignore the ‘entertainment’, or acknowledge it briefly and
returned promptly to the task, the effect was minimal, but if they joined in as audience they wasted
working time.
The positions we identified can be considered in terms of their general availability, and their
specific accessibility to particular students. We consider that any collaborating group will provide
opportunities for people to be positioned as Manager, Helper, Humorist or Expert. Not all of these
will be occupied on every occasion, as we found, but the possibility exists. The availability
of some positions may depend on contextual factors such as group composition, classroom
social norms, or the nature of English task.
The feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis allowed us to understand how ninth grade gender
positioning was constructed and how gendered discourses emerged in controversial EFL debates.
In terms of student responses, our textual analysis indicated that gender positioning was ubiquitous
on the part of students, they were positioning themselves based on their background experiences
in and out the classroom. They were assigning to the other gender certain social characteristics,
such as the conceptions that FS1 had about the emotionally strength to leave vices, which lies in
women and not in men (81), but also the physical strength lies now in men confirmed again in
the second case, during the interview with FS2 when she said “de pronto en lo físico los hombres
nos ganan, pero en lo emocional somos un poco más fuertes y de llevar las penas (112), Thus,
previously described were evident the perceptions male/female had around the other gender.
Such as, being female characterizes one as a woman, and being a woman signifies one as weak,
emotional, and irrational, and is incapable of actions attributed to a “man”.
By analyzing verbal and non-verbal students’ discourses from the controversial debates observation
and interview displayed on the extracts ( 1,2,3,4,5,and 6) , we found that (FS1/ FS2/MS1/ MS2)
not only they assigned themselves but also how they were positioned by other classmates with
other kinds of positions while they were interacting inside the EFL classroom. Thus, they were
characterized as “Manager, Expert Humorists, and Helper”.
These positions can be considered in terms of their general availability, and their specific
accessibility to particular students. We consider that any collaborating group will provide
opportunities for people to be positioned as Manager, Helper, Humorist or Expert. Not all of
these will be occupied on every occasion, as we found, but the possibility exists. The
availability of some positions may depend on contextual factors such as group composition,
classroom social norms, or the nature of English task.
We conclude that, for a group to collaborate optimally, positioning should be fluid, with students
able to move freely in and out of the positions of Expert, humorists, manager Collaborator and
helper since we realize the importance of “flexibility in sharing metacognitive roles” (Goos,
Galbraith & Renshaw, 2002) rather than the exclusive occupancy of any position by one individual
that may have negative consequences for both group and individual.
Finally, male and female students’ storylines in conversational interactions about controversial
topics or situations allowed us to understand how gendered discourses emerged in EFL while
they shared, contrasted and built up new perceptions among them. Learners viewed themselves
as both masculine and feminine, using their interests and behaviors as the principal means of
defining their gender positioning. During the debates, participants could express discourses
and behaviors of approval and disapproval of their masculinity and feminity, however, students
adopted fixed positions which reduced male learners’ opportunities to construct their gender
positioning discursively.
Pedadogical Implications
We consider, in terms of affectiveness, Controversial debates generated an environment in which
students learnt to listen to their partners and respect the points of views that were not the same
they had. Also, discussions were inclusive activities because students’ opinions were worthy and
they did not feel attack by their pairs when they took different positions. Therefore, the cognitive
aspect was involved in the discovery of their critical thinking skills by analyzing and discussing the
controversial issues. Both components; affective and cognitive were crucial in the development of
this pedagogical intervention.
Finally, this pedagogical intervention encouraged equity and respect that would help students to
be active participants of more symmetrical social relations and interactions in their future lives as
women and men contributing to their social context.
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Appendix 1: Transcription Conventions
The following abbreviations were use to facilitate the transcription of the video
TL: Teacher Leidy
TLo: Teacher Leonardo
TM: Teacher Mafe
FS1/FS2: Female students 1 and 2.
MS1/MS2: Male students 1 and 2.
Ss: whole class students
G5: group number 5
Yury Palacios, Carlos Andrés Cáceres
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
Context in Video Songs to
Enhance Critical Thinking Skills
This study reports on a descriptive and interpretative qualitative research that focused on the
application of task-based learning on video songs to enhance critical thinking skills. It was carried
out with 10 eleventh graders at a public school, in Bogotá. The two main aims of this study were
to evidence the way students used their critical thinking skills when exploring the contexts of the
video songs through Bloom’s revised taxonomy and to examine changes in student’s responses
toward their own views of life. The instruments used for collecting data were field notes, video
recordings and student’s artifacts. The result of the study showed that the used of songs generated
an inviting atmosphere that allowed students to express their ideas freely according to their life
experiences. As students became engaged with the content of the different songs they applied
their levels of thought and reflected upon key issues of daily life.
Key words: critical thinking, task & video songs
Critical thinking has been a concern for the majority of teachers; since it is important that students
decide by themselves what the best option when they are making decisions. Besides, we as
teachers have to take into account that we have to guide students to be active learners in the
classroom, instead of those who let that others think for them.
As a part of the observations in EFL classroom with eleventh graders from a public school, it has
been detected how English songs can be used for a wide variety of EFL learning and teaching
activities. They can start discussions on a topic or even become the center of debate that students
find interesting. As we could analyze some observations in the piloting stage based on some
task through the Bloom’s revised taxonomy we could find that eleventh grade students’ thinking
processes do not seem to reach the highest levels of thought in the way they express their ideas in
English, either by writing, speaking, etc. The students’ reactions when they were asked something
showed how in speaking, they hardly explain their opinions critically about an issue to consider,
besides the student’s attitude towards the activities from the book.
According to the information found about the benefits that song lyrics have in the EFL classroom, as
well as the way our participants perceived music in a very positive way, we decided to implement
video songs with lyrics regarding teenagers’ concerns, to get them more interested in the lessons
and get an active participation. Based on this problem statement, we posed the following question:
How do students respond to critical thinking tasks based learning on video songs?
Review of the Literature
Our theoretical based foundations pertinent to the development of this study regarding the concept
of critical thinking, the role of tasks based on video songs in the development of Critical Thinking
For Schafersman (1991), critical thinking is relevant, reliable, reflective, and skilful thinking.
People who think critically can ask appropriate questions, gather relevant information, reason
logically from this information, and can reflect about the world they live in. Critical thinking is
“that way of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem, in which the thinkers improve
the quality of their thinking, by skilfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking
and imposing intellectual standards upon them. In this review, critical thinking is seen as the
intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing,
synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from, or gathered by, observation, experience,
reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (Scriven and Paul, as
cited in Ustunluoglu, 2004, p.3). According to the authors, critical thinking is composed by two
components: The first one refers to those skills that allow processing and generating information
and beliefs, and the second component refers to the use of those skills as a habit, based on
interactional commitment. The authors present critical thinking as a deeper process rather than
the mere acquisition and retention of information. It involves a particular way in which information
is sought and treated.
In the previous concepts critical thinking is related to deep processes such as comprehending,
evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, making inferences, solving problems, and acting on a reality,
among others. Those concepts not only refer to the importance of critical thinking, because of the
development of such skills, but also to the necessity of actively using them in the world people
are involved in.
Understanding what critical thinking engage.
According to Bloom (1956), critical thinking skills will change student’s attitudes and behaviours.
In order to explain what critical thinking involves, he proposed a taxonomy of objectives which
has three domains: cognitive, psychomotor, and effective. The first one includes those objectives
which deal with the recall or recognition of knowledge and the development of intellectual skills
and abilities. The psychomotor domain involves some human motor skills, such as performing,
operating, relaxing, handling, and typing, among others. And the affective domain refers to those
human behaviours and values, like acceptances, challenges, affiliations, judgments, questions,
and others.
Within the cognitive domain, he identified six levels: Knowledge, comprehension, application,
analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Bloom’s taxonomy indicates that all the levels are developed hierarchically, as shown in figure
1; this means that an individual starts with knowledge, which is the basic level, and then he/
she progresses to reach the most complex level, which is evaluation. It implies that a person
must follow an established order step by step to reach all levels of critical thinking (Pineda,
2003). Nonetheless, we read some literature about one recent revision of the Bloom’s taxonomy
(designed by one of the co-editors of the original taxonomy along with a former Bloom student)
that merits our particular attention. In 2001 the Bloom’s taxonomy was revised to help teachers
understand and implement a standards-based curriculum, Anderson &Krathwohl, transformed
the taxonomy and made it to provide a comprehensive set of classifications for learner cognitive
processes that are included in instructional objectives as explained in figure 1.
Figure 1: Levels of critical thinking skills, Bloom, 1956. Taken from Orey, M. (2001)
Music and video songs
At this point it is important to mention music, which is a technique that has been applied for
many teachers in the last years, as it allows both interaction and construction of knowledge. It is
relevant to consider, the several studies on the relationship between music and intelligence, one is
a research neurologist at the University of Wisconsin, by Dr. Frances Rauscher (July 1998) shows
that laboratory rats exposed to Mozart’s music, are able to complete a task faster and with fewer
errors than rats exposed to silence. Such studies also indicate that exposure to music enhances
spatial intelligence. Studies show that brain cells are linked to each other providing the music
interact in the brain. Also emphasizes the causal relationship between early musical training,
which creates neurological connection using abstract reasoning.
Though we are not looking for having laboratory measuring in the amount of neuronal connections,
we believe that music has the power of permeating more meaningful knowledge in the brain, and it
is intended to see that in a sample case saying that to try to remember how to make descriptions,
the memory of having a special rhythm and melody in the background, will bring characteristics
about a sad story, a wicked character, and so on.
As we can see music has a huge impact into the classroom, for that reason a large amount of
teachers use songs when teaching English. We decided to implement songs, in order to promote
critical thinking skills but we applied the use of them by using also videos. We agree with Caroline
(2003) when she states that “English videos can be used for an assorted number of language
teaching and learning activities”. The main difference lies in the fact that you see and hear, at the
same time.
We see the necessity of preparing students to be more active participants in their learning process,
and we consider that using music was a positive and powerful tool to do it, since it looks for better
environments that will allow them to express freely what they think or feel, in agreement to what
Murphey (1995) states when he says that the use of music and songs in the classroom can
stimulate very positive associations to the study of language, since they have affective intention.
They occupy ever more of the world around us; they work on our short and long memory; and they
may strongly motivate learning and promote interaction.
According to Nunan, (991:10) a task is “a piece of classroom work which involves learners in
comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention
is principally focused on meaning rather than form”. In a task based approach the teacher
facilitates the process of learning, by making it easier, through organizing and coordinating tasks,
and helping students to find their pathway in learning.
Tasks are also an instrument to stimulate and use previous knowledge will re-structure the previous
and in this way lead to an improvement of their knowledge
When creating a task it is relevant to mention its components since they are useful instruments
that contribute to their selection, adaptation and transformation. According to Nunan (1991), tasks
are imposed of goals, input data, activities, settings and roles.
It is important to mention that as we are working with teenagers, the task we decide to implement
allow them to promote their knowledge, for this reason we need to involve them in the learning
processes. Teachers usually complain about the students’ passive attitude towards the different
activities. What we sometimes do not take into account is that our students’ preferences could
help them in their learning processes. Tomlinson (2003) affirms that when selecting a “text, the
most important for us is its potential engagement. Finally, on the other hand Boyum emphasizes
on the importance of connecting thinking skills and the learning of the English language. We agree
with him, when he arguments that the development of critical thinking entails tasks, activities
and exercises that produce rational, analytical, evaluative thinking (as cited in Pineda, 2003).
When combining the learning of a foreign language with critical thinking, the learning experience
becomes more meaningful.
Research design
In this section we give an account of the type of study used to carry out our research project.
It contains the description of the setting where the study took place, the researcher’s role,
the techniques and instruments applied to collect data, the participants involved in this study,
explanation of the evidence and the validity and reliability management.
Our research was based on a qualitative perspective, in which the researcher was a participant
observer since our interest was to describe what student’s responses revealed about their critical
thinking skills when they were involved in video songs tasks. According to Merriam (1998), the
researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. The research collection
includes fieldwork and the process to analyze the data collected inductive, which should result in
a product characterized by a rich description.
This research is descriptive since we look for a deep narration of the findings we obtain from the
data analysis process (Merriam, 1998). It means that we included data about the way students
used their critical thinking skills, the ideas that students used to refer to regarding tasks. This
research is also interpretative because our intention was not only to describe what was observed,
but to analyze and interpret student’s reflections regarding situations that affected them prompted
by the songs.
The current study took place at a public school which is located at Minuto de Dios in Bogotá.
It is a governmental institution which offers basic primary, secondary and validation education
to children and adults of the community. The philosophy or PEI of this school is the individual
and collective growth in an integral and harmonic way in which education experience can be the
meeting point, taking into account the student’s autonomy. The institution will focus on the labor
of promoting a need in the student to develop the critical analytical and reflective thinking in order
to incise on the quality of life of the students. The research project was carried out in the English
laboratory which was equipped with computers, a video beam, a black board, 5 tape recorders,
a DVD and a television. Besides, the classes were taken from 8-00 a.m. to 10.00 a.m. every
Wednesday and Thursday.
The researchers’ role
In this study we as researchers are going to explore how the methodology implemented fits to reach
out the highest levels of thought, it means that we will be involved as exploratory researchers. “In
qualitative research, the researcher becomes actively engaged in the activities of the setting”
(Jacob, 1988) as it happens in this exploratory case study where we become students’ stimulators
for they to recall or remember information, explain ideas and concepts, use information in a new
way, distinguish between the different parts, justify a stand or decision and create a new product or
point of view, all of this at the time we also observe how it helps students to think critically. So, our
role as researchers receives a great critical attention since as qualitative researchers we are often
reflecting on our role in the research process, we are always observing, analyzing and describing,
how tasks based on video songs help students to think critically.
The participants
The students that participated in this study are 11th graders form a public school, their ages
ranged from 15 to 17 years old. Through the practicum in secondary school we found this group
of students appropriate to work. When we arrived there we could observe in the different activities
carried out based on the book, how students seemed not to think beyond with some issues
presented in the textbook Teenagers that was the book students from the this school used to have
English classes, instead of that, students hardly could explain ideas or concepts. Taking it into
account, we were worried about this concern, then we decided to implement Bloom’s revised
taxonomy as a way to measure student’s critical processes, in that order we could notice that
students reach the lower thinking levels. Students were very interested in the English class with
different task based on issues presented in different video, and most of them participated in the
development of our research, however at the moment of the participant selection, we took into
account those students who attended every English class and the students who presented more
difficulties in their critical processes. For that reason, we narrowed our participants to a number of
10 students who were the ones from who we gathered all the data.
Techniques and instruments to apply to collect data
The following explanation gives an account of the process carried out through three main
instruments: video tape recorder, field notes and artifacts in order to collect relevant data related
to our main concern.
We decided to make use of teachers’ field notes in each class and register the student’s responses
that emerged from the issues related directly to the lyrics of the songs we planned for each
class. It is important to consider, that field notes helped us describe the relevant information such
as “defines field notes in accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has
made while participating in an intense and involved manner” Emerson (1995).Taking into account
Emerson’s ideas we decided to use field notes in each class to observe our concern.
As a support of the instrument mentioned before, we decided to implement video recordings
every single class, since we had the opportunity to watch the video and come back to aspects
that can illuminate a better understanding about our research. Consequently, through the different
transcripts it would be also an evidence of the different tasks carried out in the classroom. ???
Video-based data are used to illustrate arguments concerning how children use different interaction
strategies while being observed with a video camera. It is also argued that visual”.
In this section we give an account of our pedagogical intervention. It contains: the curriculum
perspective, the vision of language, the vision of learning and the vision of the classroom this
instructional design is based on. Besides, we find out the plan of action which includes: activities,
procedures, and the resources used through this innovative pedagogical intervention.
An account of the innovative pedagogical intervention
The methodology that we applied was the communicative approach. Since this approach helps
us conceptualize the complementary roles of songs in our implementation. It also gave us the
opportunity to establish the continuity with the activities and topics presented, helping students
reinforce their knowledge and self-confidence through the development of different and interesting
activities of oral production.
Taking into account the pedagogical advantages, the communicative approach guaranties that
students are involved in the interaction among them in meaningful and real communications. They
did not work having prepared and chosen the language, so language arose naturally in classes.
Sanchez (2004) states that: “you cannot reach true linguistic achievements if opportunities for
interaction are not present”. We agree with this idea because of the way students internalize the
language, which is being in contact with it, we can help them by means of the application of
meaningful assignments and this approach is based on real topics.
By using the video songs, as an input for students to find out a topic of discussion, our learners
will construct their own perspective of the world, through individual experiences. Furthermore,
the students will construct their own knowledge, expressing it in discussions, written exercises
or even drawings.
Taking into account what was identified in the process of diagnosis, we choose some songs which
presented different topics. Some of these songs are chosen considering common students’ likes
and preferences. First of all we made a presentation of some key words that gave them an idea of
the song we used flash cards accompanied by a set of few words, and when some vocabulary was
difficult for children to understand, we made use of body language and discourse modification.
As they had some key words, students had to organize sometimes in groups or by themselves, pay
attention to the song and organize the lyrics of the song, put all the stanzas in the correct order.
When the students had already organized the song, they were to sing the song three times at the
time they watched the video of the song, in order to memorize verbs, expressions, new vocabulary,
so in this way they acquired pronunciation and vocabulary in context. One of the activities we
planned had to do with drawings, where they had to draw whatever they thought expressed their
idea about the topic of the song, or it could also be what they felt.
In this final part they gave us their opinions through drawings, or in written exercises or oral
debates. So we could listen to them to see how their ideas were being constructed regarding the
critical thinking they were supposed to express themselves, by giving opinions with the different
comments and perceptions they could have towards the topic of the song.
Data analysis
Triangulation method
The third procedure implemented on this study was the triangulation and analysis of the data
collected. For the triangulation and analysis of the information gathered we used the color coding
technique, Tucker (as cited in Marshall & Rossman, 2006) which consisted of underlying patterns
with different colored highlighting pens within the three instruments. It implied progressive and
continuous reading, re-reading and reflection of the data identifying particular phenomena,
grouping the concepts around it to finally reduce the number of units that led us to come up with
two categories that answered the research questions (Strauss, A & Corbin, J, 1990).
The constant comparative method
According to the procedure we followed to analyze data which consists in comparing the data from
the different instruments applied, in that order the categories emerged from an organized process.
For that reason, it is important to mention the evident theory applied in data analysis is grounded
theory; “Grounded theory is a type of qualitative research methodology that allows theory/theories
to emerge from the data that is collected. Grounded theory research follows a systematic yet
flexible process to collect data, code the data, make connections and see what theory/theories
are generated or are built from the data. A theory is a set of concepts that are integrated through a
series of relational statements” (Hage, 1972).
Keeping in mind the research question, the following preliminary category emerged from
describing students’ critical thinking process based on issues presented in video songs. The
category is: approaching the higher critical thinking skills through life experience. While analyzing
the data we found out that the students who were part of our study during the classes, portrayed
school and family experiences through debates and stories by recalling personal experiences.
The students were basing their processes of thinking on the reflection about their experiences
(Dewey 1933). Those reflections were thought for an extended period by linking their recent
experiences to earlier ones in order to promote a more complex and interrelated mental schema.
The thinking of the students involves looking for commonalities, differences, and interrelations
beyond their superficial elements; at the time, it helps them to reach the goal of developing higher
order thinking skills.
First Category: Approaching higher critical thinking skills through life
While analyzing the data we found out that the students, who were part of our study during
the activities based on video songs sessions, portrayed school and family experiences through
debates and drawings by recalling personal experiences. These experiences will be presented in
this second category: Approaching higher critical thinking skills through life experiences, in this
category we were able to identify two main features; the first one making connection with beliefs
and the second one making connections with feelings.
Since there was a strong emphasis on using their experiences, it is important to know about this
concept. An experience is defined as something or some event gained through involvement in or
exposure to that thing or event (the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).
The quality of life experiences is very important in the connection with thoughts as Bennett states
(1987) the quality and depth of life experiences in a given domain of thinking or with respect
to a particular topic transforms thinkers since they are not critical thinker through-and-through,
but only to such and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, and subject
to such-and-such tendencies towards self delusion. For this reason, the development of critical
thinking skills through the use of life experiences helped them put themselves into the characters’
shoes, in that way they felt as the characters did and tried to imagine their own response if
they were the ones facing such situation. The following features engaged experiences in our first
The first feature to be informed is beliefs:
First of all it is important to highlight what belief means. Green and Fenstermacher (cited in
Clavijo, 1999) define beliefs as “an individual’s understanding of the world and the way it works
or should work, may be consciously or unconsciously held, and guide one’s actions” (as cited
in Clavijo, 1999, p.2). They should not be confused with knowledge, since, as humans, we can
easily believe things that are false or believe things to be true without knowing them to be so
(Paul, 1990).
The students examined the possible meaning of images to identify unstated assumptions like for
example that New York is more beautiful than Bogotá. They connected the images to the beliefs
they had about some social issues regarding their own city life style, such as transportation,
inequality, life conditions. The use of images had a strong, metaphorical meaning that led students
detect and support their arguments to make their explanations. The images did not just illustrate
the songs; they also helped students create meaning by translating the images to generate further
interpretation of the songs and to reach higher levels of thoughts.
The next feature we identified in this category is feelings:
There is a link between thought and feelings. “All human feelings are based on some level of
understanding and insight; we must come to terms with the intimate connections between thought
and feeling, reason and emotion” (Paul, 1990, p13).
In the following sample, students answered a question responding “How does the song make me
feel?” and “What does the song make me think of?”
Artifact 12, S7
The students made a choice of words, which shows the feelings the song generated in them. These
words expressed the emotions the song evoked in them as they connected it to the reality of their
life. In the image, when the student states “forgiveness of God is the more big forgiveness” it is
seen how he also associated the song to concerns implicating them in his life. So, he moves from
a broader situation to a more particular one, which affects him directly and it is the importance of
forgiveness in life.
The contents of the songs empowered them to draw on their own to make sense by seeing,
thinking and reflecting towards what really happened in their particular reality. According to pined
2003 “the process of making sense implies interpreting our reality from a subjective perspective,
which is shaped by our history and through the interaction with others (p 128).
As a conclusion for this first category we can say that the role of life experiences based on feelings
and beliefs is important for students when they reflect about an issue or situation to consider. The
use of songs brings into the classroom situations in which students can express what they believe
or not, what they feel, and it lets them narrate experiences they have had during the past. Students
showed to think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing
their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences immersed in their life. When
students reflect on their own life experiences the criteria to make judgments provoke reflective
problem solutions and thoughtful decisions, for this reason they start to go through higher critical
thinking stages. We noticed how the context of judgments is relevant to define their criteria.
Bialystok, E. (1990). Communication Strategies: A Psychological Analysis
ofSecond-language use, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Bygate, M. (1987).Speaking, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Campbell, Don G. 100 Ways to Improve Teaching Using Your Voice and
Music: Pathways
to Accelerate
Learning. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press, 1992.
Charles Cornell, PhD, is an assistant professor of bilingual education/ESL at
East Texas State Univeristy in Commerce, Texas.
Corbetta (2003, p.269) interviews
Dornyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and Researching Motivation.Harlow, Longman.
Emerson, Robert M. (1995). Writing Ethnographic Field Notes. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press
Fisher, A. (2001). Critical Thinking, an Introduction.Cambridge University
Gander, S. L. (2006). Throw out Learning Objectives! In Support of a New
Taxonomy.Performance Improvement. 45(3), 9-15.
J. C. Richards, Theodore S. Rodgers (2001). Approaches and Methods in
Language Teaching. Cambridge
Kelly, L., & Watson, A. K. (1986).Speaking with Confidence and Skill. New
York, Harper & Row Press.
Lieberstein, T. (1996, May-June).Makin’ Music: Song Rhythm and Creative
Expression.Camping Magazine.
Merriam (1988). Case Study Research in Education: A Qualitative Approach.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass Publishers.
Michael H. Long,DavidNunan,BruceReady,National Curriculum Resource.
Second Language Acquisition and the Language Curriculum
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Rapidly Changing World, in Binker, J. a. (Ed.) Center for critical Thinking and
Moral Critique. (pp. 125). Sonorna State University
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University Press.
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Theory,Procedures and Techniques. London: Seige Publications.
Rigoberto Castillo, Linda-Catherine Camelo
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
Parental Involvement to Support
School L2 Learning
This article reports a study that explores how to assist parents to tutor their children in the school
second language (L2) learning. A class of twenty fourth graders participated in this inquiry on how
to connect parents and school. Learners and parents complained that they did not know how to
cope with assignments since “they did not speak English.” The literature on parental involvement
is briefly discussed. The data collected suggests that after the workshops conducted with parents
and children on learning strategies they became more focused on communication than on the
language forms of the L2. The results indicate that primary schools would benefit from orienting
parents on the purpose and procedures that would allow effective parental involvement to support
literacy development. They also indicate that learning to utilize resources, such as specialized
websites, was instrumental for participants to build confidence on L2 learning.
Key words: parental involvement, homework, children´s literacy development, English language
The first section of this article discusses the significance assigned to parental participation in
the Colombian educational policies. The second section describes the problem identified: lack
of understanding of the purpose of homework, little knowledge of how to use Internet resources
to assist homework, and lack of parent involvement to support their children attempts in the
second language (L2).The third section outlines the literature review and the fourth presents the
research design. The article closes with results and discussion of the intervention that found that
the teacher’s guidance engaged parents and their children in literacy processes that proved to be
useful in supporting L2 learning.
In the Colombian general law of education (Ley 115 de 1994), the 6th article defines the parties
that constitute the educational community and the role of parents in education:
“The educational community is made up of learners, educators, parents or care takers, teachers
and school administrators as well as alumni. All of them, according to their competence, shall
participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of the Institutional Educational Project
(Translated by authors)
Parental involvement is a significant consideration in the educational policy. In 2007 the M.E.N.
published the guide for parents and schools: “¿Cómo participar en los procesos educativos de
la escuela?”in which parental involvement in the education of children is highlighted. The role
and responsibility and role that parents and teachers play in the children´s are argued. Likewise,
parents are defined as educators in family life and in the community. It is maintained that the
parents’ participation has to transcend the reception of punctual information from the school and
the teachers. Instead, schools require establishing the parents’ co-responsibility in the children
education and in the construction of values accompanying administrators, teachers, other parents
and the educational community.
These principles, which support the connection family-school in the educational process,
persuaded us of the importance to inquire on school-home connections. It challenged us to
design strategies that might involve parents in their boys’ and girls’ literacy development.
Statement of the Problem
As part of the regular school processes, a diagnosis test was applied to identify the 4th graders’
proficiency level. In comparison with the expectation of standards for that grade the scores
indicated that their comprehension and production was below average: 43/100 in reading
and writing. As a follow up, the homeroom teacher and the learners were interviewed about
achievement and about learning processes. The teacher and the learners coincided one of the
causes of low scores was insufficient parent involvement in supporting them with English. Later
in a survey and at a Parent-Teachers´ meeting, parents admitted their little involvement. They
affirmed they had little knowledge of English, little motivation and little time to assist their children
with this subject:
Parent 1: Pues… En la casa de pronto no hacen las tareas, digamos en cuanto a mi hijo..
eeeh… es porque realmente yo no sé …pero es porque la verdad no entiendo…
Parent 2: La verdad… la verdad es que a nosotros no nos queda tiempo, nos toca trabajar todo
el día entonces… la verdad no nos queda tiempo para… para trabajar con ellos.
Parent 2. Falta motivarlos más.
In a survey, parents volunteered comments that acknowledge they have a role to play in supporting
the education of their children:
Parent a: “Debemos estar al tanto de nuestros hijos en todas las áreas y su entorno”
Parent b: “Porque trabajando en conjunto todos estos aspectos podremos colaborar más con
el desarrollo académico y personal del niño”
Parent c: “Porque es la formación y educación de ella”
Parent d: “Porque si hay dialogo en casa, se refleja en la escuela con seguridad”
Parent e: “Porque se van sentir más seguros más confiados y aprenden más”
Parent f: “Porque como padres, somos parte de la solución”
In the survey they also recognized the importance of attending the school events and that their
involvement backed literacy development, and that they can help their children to build confidence
and to motivate them. The data suggested the need to support L2 learning taking advantage of the
willingness, and motivation that parents expressed.
The literature supports the existence of the problem as well. Epstein (2009, p. 43) affirms that
although schools and teachers influence children´s learning to read, parents remain influential
in reading and literacy development. Besides, Greenberg(2011) assures home is the primary
environment in which the child’s potential and personality will take shape and it is created a
positive, open atmosphere that will not only support what goes on in the classroom, but will also
instill the desire to learn. Anderson (2000) contends that parents have great potential in students’
literacy development because they stimulate their child’s adult intelligence and lay the foundation
for formal reading instruction. Furthermore Chavkin (1993, p. 22) remarks that parents transmit
their skills, knowledge, attitudes and values to children by modeling acceptable behavior, guiding
their activities, and giving direct instruction.
Literature Review
The concepts of parental involvement, literacy, and L2 learning illuminate our inquiry. Based on
an extensive review of research studies Marzano (2006) identified key factors that influence school
achievement: 1. Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum; 2. Challenging Goals and Effective Feedback;
3. Parent and Community Involvement; 4. Safe and Orderly Environment; 5. Collegiality and
Professionalism. Marzano (2005 p.4) argues that: “My basic position is quite simple: Schools
can have a tremendous impact on student achievement if they follow the direction provided by the
research.” In this paper we shall consider the third factor.
Parental Involvement. For Marzano (2012 p.1) “The importance of parent involvement on student
achievement is explicit in the research, whereas the importance of community involvement is more
implicit. Three aspects of parent and community involvement are important to student achievement:
mechanisms for communication, involvement in the day-to-day running of the school, and the use
of governance structures.” Our study touches upon the aspect of mechanism of communication
between the school on how the school the parents and the teachers conceive learning.
On the other hand, Epstein (2009, p. 150) poses the theory of overlapping sphere of influence
where the three major contexts in which students learn, grow and are influenced by include: the
family, the school and the community.
Epstein´s typology about parental involvement.
support Help families to establish home environments to
School-to-home- and home to- school
communications through the design and use of
effective forms.
The enrollment and organization of a school’s volunteer program.
Learning at Home
Help families to assist their children with homework and recognize other opportunities at home.
Decision making
Include parents, students, and community members in the school in decision making process.
Collaborating with the Community The recognition and integration of resources, services from the community.
Adapted from Epstein, J. (2009:P. 16). School, Family and Community Partnerships
Moreover, she created a main framework to relate family and school with practices that help
institutions to achieve students ‘goals and create a climate of partnership. This study seeks for
harmony between school and home learning practices.
Parental involvement and literacy outcomes. Concerning elementary school, Sheldon (2002,
p. 40 -51) reports students´ academic outcomes in literacy where parents remain influential in
children´s reading and literacy development through reading related activities. In the same vein,
the Harvard Family Research Project (2007, p. 4) affirms that one of the parenting responsibility
for learning outcomes in the elementary school years falls into supporting literacy because
parents influence children’s reading performance modeling and giving an emotional climate and
enhancing children’s reading achievement. Another literacy link is given by Midraj and Midraj
(2011, p. 53) who assure that parental tutoring, providing learning resources and partaking in
literacy activities with their children at home are significant predictor in both comprehension
and accuracy achievement. Likewise, Anderson (2000) says that direct involvement in children’s
learning and the availability of learning resources at home all appear to influence academic
success and cognitive growth.
Barón and Corredor (2007) explored connectivity between parents and children. They affirm that
effective communication between families and schools may guarantee good and permanent ties
and combine mechanisms lead towards the enrichment and fulfillment as students´ educational
goal. By the same token, Lopera (2009) writes about the relation family-school as alliance. He
discusses that establishing a relationship between family and educational institution which seeks
the effective achievement of institutional projects, require to define a possible alliance between
the school and the family considering their responsibilities, personal purposes and the appropriate
forms or participation mechanisms for the prosecution of this relationship, understanding that this
is twofold: from the family to school and from school to family.
Literacy as social meaning. Literacy goes beyond the ability to read and write and comprises a
social meaning where the children´s context as family does influence its development. Form this,
Caspe (2003) affirms that “literacy involves much more than encoding and decoding symbols;
it extends beyond the acquisition of reading and writing skills (…) and entails the ability to use
these skills in a socially appropriate context”. (p. 1).Hell (1991, p. 245) affirms that literacy
involves relations between a student and his/her culture as instanced by the material to read or
written, complementing what Bloome (1985) assures about literacy activities as “reading includes
establishing social groups and ways of interacting with others that comprise social relationships
among people, among teachers and students, among students, among parent and children and
among author and readers” (p.134).
Likewise, Razfar and Gutiérrez (2003, p.34-35) discuss the Vygotskyan Zone of Proximal
Development (ZPD) and affirm that the development of a child´s individual mental process, the
child’s potential development or what child can do with the assistance of a more expert other
(s) is socially mediated. From this, Bruner (1977, p. 281-289) assures that the nature of both
adult and child participation and how adult assists children literacy activities is critical toward
understanding how children effectively move through ZPD.
Parental involvement and L2 learning. For Rosenbusch (1987, p. 3) parents play a major role
in shaping their children’s attitude, toward L2 and culture. Forero and Quevedo (2006) also discuss
evidence that parents and children used written productions the L1 and in the L2 to make sense of
the world through expressing perceptions, feelings, suggestions and expectations. Additionally, the
collaborative work revealed that a mutual commitment among parent and child was developed.
Also, Gao (2006, p. 287, 289) concludes that family influence children´s foreign language
learning in directly and indirectly. Indirectly, when family acts as language learning facilitators and
language teachers’ collaborators creating learning discourses, motivating or propelling students
to learn English; and directly when family works as language learning advisors, language learning
coercers, and language learning nurturers, training their children to be good language learners.
Research Design
The study is a qualitative action research which was conducted at a state primary school in
Bogotá, Colombia. The population included twenty student of 4th grade and their parents. The
phases were: prior, during and after the intervention. The latter comprised homework and other
assignments with topics that connected English language and family life. A friendly website, in
both Spanish and English, was developed to communicate with parents and to link them with
resources for language learning (
Prior to the intervention, participants took a diagnosis test to find possible EFL learning difficulties.
A survey was conducted to examine parents’ relation with the school, with their children academic
performance and to find out about their parental involvement. They were asked about the steps
they follow and the resources they used to do homework. They identified the difficulties to do
the L2 homework and how a teacher may guide them. In addition, another survey was applied
to determine parents´ preferences in terms of how they want to be involved through homework:
through a parental letter/guide, web page or conferences about homework.
During and after the intervention, parents and children´s feelings about homework were collected.
They were asked what they had learnt, what was enjoyable and what seemed difficult. The study
posed these research questions to guide the inquiry:
What does the promotion of a parental involvement intervention reveal about
literacy development in a group of EFL third graders?
How may parent involvement support EFL development in a group of third graders?
Results and discussion
This project attempted to solve the problem of insufficient parent involvement in supporting their
children’s learning. The classroom observations, the students’ assignments the workshops with
parents and the website created to support learning provided data that revealed that it is possible
to make home-school connections.
Sample of webpage developed for parents and learners (
The data gathered in the surveys applied before and after the workshops with parents, the
assignments done by student and parents indicate that in terms of literacy, the tasks and the
resources provided further insight on how to use the L2 without the inhibition of their L1 to
communicate their ideas. Following Hatch (1978, p. 28) assertion that the acquisition of an L2 is
the product of an attempt to communicate. On the other hand samples attest to the use of Spanish
language to make themselves understood.
Besides, after the first part of the intervention, some progress in terms of literacy was observed.
Writing showed development by parents and the same learners during the intervention. Participants
described the process as fruitful and positive. They claimed that parents and children worked
together in tasks that contributed to family communication and to L2 learning.
The timely submission of homework improved. Parents assured that the guidelines provided in
the workshops allowed them to understand the purpose of the assignment and that they learned
to support their children L2 learning.
The artifacts produced after the parents’ workshops indicate that these were more elaborate. That
parents and learners seemed to show confidence in expressing themselves using approximations
to L2 and images.
In sum, this study corroborates the assertion that the school gains from familiarizing parents on
how to support school learning. The intervention did not attempt to teach English to the parents;
instead it attempted to clarify that the L2 class was focused on communication rather than on
using the forms of the target language correctly. The workshops dealt with the strategies and the
resources readily available to support their kid’s learning. Parents and children awareness of the
use of specialized websites, and the use of the website designed by the teacher-researcher was
instrumental for participants to build confidence on L2 learning. The warm atmosphere of the
parents’ workshops cannot be captured as data but the parents’ and the boys’ and girls’ testimonies
indicate their gratitude. We would like to encourage schools to orient parents; patience is needed
though since parents are reluctant to participate at first. It takes time and work to communicate to
them that this guidance can prove to be of great benefit to literacy development.
Anderson, S. (2000).How parental involvement makes a difference in reading
Barón and Corredor (2007). Depicting family-school participation in scheduled
activities. Monograph L.E.B.E. Inglés. Bogotá Universidad Distrital Francisco
José de Caldas.
Bloome. (1985). Literacy as social experience. In C. Brumfit, J. Moon, R.
Bruner, J. (1997). The Culture of Education; Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University
Camelo G. L.C. (in press). Parental involvement to support Children’s EFL
literacy. Monograph Licenciatura Inglés. Bogotá: Universidad Distrital.
Caspe, M. (2003). Family Literacy. A Review of Programs and Critical
Perspectives. Cambridge, Harvard Family Research Project, 1-2.
Chavkin, N.(1993). Families and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany, State
University of New York press, 22.
Epstein, J. (2009). School, Family and Community Partnerships, Your
Handbook for Action, 2nd edition, Corwin Press.
Forero and Quevedo (2006). Parental support in writing. Monograph L.E.B.E.
Inglés. Bogotá Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas.
Gao, X. (2006). Strategy used by Chinese parents to support English language
learning. RELC Journal, 37:3, 287- 295.
Greenberg (2011). The Home-School Connection.
Hatch, E. (1997). Discourse and language education. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Hell, N. (1991). Literacy as social experience. Teaching English to children.
From practice to principle. Manchester, Harper Collins publishers, 134, 245.
Lopera, R. (2009). La relación familia-escuela como alianza. Aproximaciones
a su comprensión e indagación. Revista Q: Educación, Comunicación y
Tecnología, 3 (6), 12.
Marzano, R. (2012). “Take Action: Involve Parents, Improve Achievement”.
Available at:
Marzano, R. (2006). “What Works in Schools”. Paper given at the School
Improvement Conference.
Lansing Center. Available at: http://www.
M.E.N. Formar en lenguas extranjeras: inglés ¡El reto! Ministerio de Educación
Nacional, 2006. Available at:
M.E.N. ¿Cómo participar en los procesos educativos de la escuela? Ministerio
de Educación Nacional, 2006.
M.E.N. 1994. Ley General de Educación. Ley 115.
Midraj and Midraj. (2011). Parental involvement and grade four students’
English reading achievement. International Journal of Applied Educational
Studies. 12.1, 53.
Razfar and Gutiérrez (2003).Reconceptualizing early childhood literacy:
the Sociocultural Influence. Handbook of early childhood literacy, SAGE
publications Ltd.
Rosenbusch, M. (1987). Foreign language learning and children: The parental
role. Washington: Eric Clearinghouse, 3.
Sheldon, S. (2002). Parents’ social networks and beliefs as predictors of parent
involvement. The Elementary School Journal, 102(4), 301-316.
María del Pilar Rojas
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
[email protected]
“Sensitizing Young English
Language Learners towards
Environmental Care with Creative
This article reports an action research study aimed at sensitizing fifth graders towards environmental
care. With a Content-Based Instruction (CBI) approach, students learned to express their ideas first
by using drawings and then by composing and writing. Instruction had three stages: recognizing
facts, reflecting on them and creating a solution to a problem. Student artifacts and journals were
used to register the progress learners made at each stage. The findings indicate that participants
benefitted from the pedagogical innovation proposed. Their environmental awareness showed
signs of development and so did their language development.
Key Words: Content-Based Instruction, environmental awareness, writing, environmental care,
environmental education, English as a foreign language.
As UNESCO-UNEP (1987) acknowledges, in the complexity of the world, the sensitization of the
society toward the environment demands the curriculum to incorporate current and transversal
topics which require didactic strategies in the classroom (p, 2). As an EFL teacher I identified that
my fifth grade did not seem to care about the environment although they showed some knowledge
of environmental issues. My inquiry used action research around the question: How may ContentBased Learning contribute to raise environmental awareness? The pedagogical intervention dealt
with recycling and resource savings using writing and drawing.
Many thanks go to Universidad Distrital professor Rigoberto Castillo who edited this article.
Literature Review
Content-Based Instruction (CBI) and Environmental education constitute the main constructs of
this study. I adhere to the definition of CBI provided by Brinton, Snow and Wesche (1989, p.
2.): “as the integration of content with language-teaching aims.” In other words, CBI involves
the teaching of academic subject matter and second language skills. On the other hand, Cates
and Jacobs (1999) argue that L2 learning has a crucial role in helping people to learn about and
participate in the protection of the environment (p.4).
For this project, drawing and writing made part of the inquiry so that these beginner learners could
express their sensitivity towards the issues under discussion, and hopefully lead them into action.
In order to relate the use of drawing and writing, we took into account the connection Sheridan
(1990) makes: children think symbolically in a variety of ways, making marks intended to have
meaning; they are clearly able to reflect upon what they see, hear, say, read, and write.
The incorporation of transversal topics to the curriculum with appropriate didactic strategies in
the classroom is recommended by Unesco-UNEP (1987, p. 2). Similarly, Pasked (2004) argue
that environmental education takes place within the practice of the search for creativity, discovery
and the exploration of realities unnoticed. From that perspective environmental awareness is
understood as the process by which the teacher and their learners, as constructive individuals of
their own knowledge, reach a growing awareness of both the socio-cultural reality which shapes
their lives, and their ability to transform this reality (Freire, 1968 cited in Pasked, 2004, p. 38).
Similarly Leff (2008) affirms that environmental awareness is not only learning the concepts
concerning the environmental impact of human activities on ecosystems, but also the use of this
knowledge to understand the situation we are in, to determine how we get to those circumstances
and to create alternatives to change them.
Pedagogical Intervention
The pedagogical intervention attempted to respond to the absence of environmental awareness. I
decided to try an approach which might allow learners to express concepts as clearly as possible
and at the same time, that initiate them in the writing process. For beginner learners it was
assumed that a cross modal practice of drawing and writing would be suitable.
The intervention was done in three stages: recognizing, reflecting on and creating topics of
environmental issues like pollution, deforestation, waste. Tasks included drawing and writing
productions, watching videos, observing gardens, analyzing environmental problems close to
them and observing their own and other people’s habits and behaviors. In addition, learners read,
interpreted and reflected on the issues presented.
At the beginning of every lesson the learners’ previous knowledge about the topic was activated.
Then their notes on the readings, observations and analysis were shared. The language they
needed for expression was provided. After this, learners drew for ten minutes and then they wrote
in English about the topic of their drawings for another ten minutes. (See Annex 1)
The production was done according to each stage: recognizing, reflecting and creating. Afterwards,
learners displayed their work and talked about it to the rest of the class, who was encouraged to
Research design
A fifth grade of twenty learners participated in this action research study; thirteen boys and seven
girls. Following Rawlinson and Little (2004) action research allowed me to inquire on students’
learning, to monitor my own teaching and instructional practices seeking to enhance learning.
“The idea of action research is that educational problems and issues are best identified and
investigated where the action is: at the classroom and school level. By integrating research
into these settings and engaging those who work in research activities, findings can be applied
immediately and problems solved more quickly” (Guskey, 2000, p. 46).
They were taught science in English and the specialized language was emphasized. Şimşekli
(2004) argues that environmental education would be more beneficial if it starts at the kindergarten
or primary level. The basic idea for an early onset is related to the fact that attitudes, behaviors
and value judgments develop at early ages. Therefore, for people to become actively involved in
solutions to environmental problems and develop awareness, they need to learn to love everything
that the environment encompasses (Gürsoy, 2010, p. 234).
Data was collected by means of artifacts and students’ journals. They latter gave me the opportunity
to gather the emic perspective (Freeman, 1998: 70) i.e., the “insiders” perception. By keeping
journals students could make interconnections between what they know and what they are learning
(Fulwiler, 1980).
I collected the data after each task. The student’s data was entered in an Excel chart so that their
responses could be tracked. Artifacts were filed and assigned a color according to each stage:
yellow for recognizing; red for reflecting; and green for creating.
Thus, I organized the data collected in the artifacts and in student´s journal to converge, by
comparing and analyzing common factors confirming the progress achieved at different stages
along the process. (Denzin 1978, cited in Burns 1999, p.164)
Data Analysis
The aim of this research proposal is to sensitize 5th graders for environmental care in the EFL
classroom. Following the action research approach and framed around qualitative research method
as it looks to understand student’s social and cultural contexts from the constructed reality in
the social interaction, (Merriam, 1998). I participated directly and intervened to understand what
happens in the different stages purposed.
The consolidation, reduction and interpretation of the data and of the literature lead to the
generation of three categories of analysis that appear in Table 1.
Research Question
Categories Expressing concerns about
environmental issues
How may Content-Based
Learning contribute to raise
environmental awareness?
Identifying and evaluating
their own actions that may
affect the environment
Proposing green personal
Sub- categories
Use of key vocabulary
related to the environment
Writing statements about
environmental issues
Drawing as a means of
Students reflect on their
own behaviors.
Students propose solutions
Students share and discuss
their final production.
Table 1. Categories and sub-categories
The first research question sought to answer how EFL learning contributes to raise environmental
awareness. It was found that learners gathered valuable information on how people and
environment interact and gained awareness on their role to become ecologically aware citizens.
As Leff (2008) argues, environmental awareness is not only learning the concepts concerning the
environmental impact of human activities on ecosystems, but it is also to use this knowledge to
understand the situation in which we are, to determine how we get to those circumstances and to
create alternatives to change. It was found that the stages used, namely, recognizing, reflecting
and creating, helped learners to express and develop their ideas, concerns, feeling, opinions,
arguments, judgments, critiques and means of actions creatively. (See figure 1, 2 & 3)
Figure 1. Sample from student`s artifacts
collected in the Recognition stage.
Figure 1. Sample from student`s artifacts collected in the Reflecting stage.
Figure 2. Sample from student`s artifacts collected in the Creating stage.
The findings indicate that participants benefitted from combining content study and language
study. Beginner learners sensitized towards environmental issues. They first developed an
understanding and then, their self-expression guided them to gain environmental awareness to
the point of proposing green solutions.
Findings also showed strong evidence of language development. When learners expressed
themselves by combining drawing and composing, they could plan their writing and make
language choices. With the guidance of the teacher and of the procedures proposed, learners
managed to connect sentences, to organize them, and to find their voice.
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language instruction. New York: Newbury House.
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Teaching. The Journey of Truth from Plato to Zola. Fakultas Sastra, Universitas
Kristen Petra. Volume 1, Number 1, pp. 44-56
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care”. Monografía de Grado Licenciatura Inglés. Bogotá, Universidad Distrital
Francisco José de Caldas.
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designed to develop descriptive, analytical and inferential thinking skills at
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Annex 1:Activity in stage 1
Ángela R.Chaparro
Lina M. Cataño
Jully C. Martínez
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
“English, Your Passport to the
World” Learners’ Perceptions
Towards English Language
This paper reports the perception a group of learners have towards the role of English in their
education. Anecdotal records, interviews and written reports were used to collect and analyze the
perceptions using a narrative method. wAs expected the participants echo the voices of the adults
around them. This paper invites language teachers to reason about their learners’ and their own
perspectives towards the role of L2 learning at school.
Key words: students’ perceptions, English language learning, language policies
Este artículo presenta las percepciones e ideas que un grupo de estudiantes tiene acerca del rol
del inglés dentro de su formación. Con registros anecdóticos, entrevistas e informes escritos se
recogieron y analizaron las percepciones usando un método narrativo. Como era de esperarse
los participantes en el estudio hacen eco de las voces de los adultos. Este artículo invita a
razonar sobre las percepciones de nuestros estudiantes y de nosotros mismos sobre el papel del
aprendizaje de otro idioma en el sistema escolar.
Palabras clave: percepciones de los estudiantes, aprendizaje del inglés, política lingüística
The authors greatly appreciate the insights provided by Universidad Distrital professor Rigoberto
Castillo in the discussion and in the editing of this paper.
This article is the result of the data collection stage of the author’s project “Exploring the influence
of English language learning on students´ life plan” This small scale study, with seven and
eight middle school learners, suggests that the statement: English, Your Passport for the World,
summarizes the role learners assign to L2 as part of their schooling.
Literature Review
For popular culture, teachers, students, and parents it is usual to refer to English as the predominant
language. As Pennycook (1994) argues: “it has become the language of power and prestige in
many countries, this acting as crucial gatekeeper to social and economic progress, and the one
which determines and exacerbates different power relationships.”(p. 13).This implies certain
predisposition and domains that help explain the presence of English in the school curricula. It
is a factor of social mobility.
Similarly, Baker (1993) offers two dimensions to explain the spread of English. The social
dimension relates to language selection connected to the discourse of English vision(as a
westernized world vision). The social and psychological dimensions propose to relate English to
development and evolution. The spread of English and thus its presence in schooling would be
explained as language selection, development and evolution.
Pennycook (1994) has also established that the discourse of English as an international language
is seen from an operative point of view that is comprised of three different perceptions: natural,
neutral and beneficial. Natural refers to the expansion of English seen as a result of inevitable global
forces. Neutral refers to English as a (we say supposed) transparent medium of communication.
That is, the expression of westernized world views. On the other hand, beneficial refers to a
cooperative and equitable footing. The discourse stresses arguments such as that multilingual
and multicultural societies benefit from communicating in English.
Henson (2003) gives an account of the debates and positions in language planning for Latin
America. For example, he affirms that those who defend the teaching of French and German
see a threat in the spread of English “the plurilingual curriculum in force since the 19th century
is menaced by a “modern”, functional and instrumental view of foreign language learning
proposing “English only” as the answer to educational needs on the level of secondary and even
tertiary education. (p.5). As it will be discussed later the instrumental view is reproduced by the
participants in the study.
The authors of this paper would like to see L2 policies more concerned with diversity and
multiculturalism. Hamel (2003 p. 23) also makes a case for multiliteracies and for intercultural
communication to integrate heterogeneous communicative systems based on the interface of
diverse dialects, sociolects, interlects, and languages, as well as models of reciprocal receptive
bilingual communication.
Data analysis and Discussion
When the learners from 8th and 9th grade were asked for the reasons they had to learn English,
they echoed the perception of English as hegemonic: Mastering it would bring me benefits; I
can get by in the world.
Excerpt Nº 1:
“Nosotros pensaríamos que tal vez es muy importante porque en estos momentos es
un idioma predominante y nos podemos defender en cualquier caso y cualquier país
del mundo”. (Student A1: G. Nº4 - Discussion).
Excerpt Nº 2:
“Pues como dicen mis compañeros antes de otros idiomas el primordial es el inglés
porque es el idioma que más se habla, entonces pues uno va a ir a un país pues
prácticamente uno va a encontrar siempre el inglés así uno vaya a Brasil o vaya a
cualquier país va a encontrar alguien que habla inglés, entonces para mí si es muy
importante”. (Student C3: – Interview Nº1).
Excerpt Nº 3:
“Yo creo que el inglés es importante, porque por ejemplo si a uno le sale una beca
en Estados Unidos o se va de excursión uno tiene que aprender inglés porque como
se va ir uno allá hablando en español o algo así; entonces para mi es importante.
Bueno, ya mis compañeros dijeron que el inglés era importante porque Estados
Unidos es el país dominante o algo así y también es necesaria para conseguir trabajo
o algo así” (Annex N° 13 Student B3: G. Nº1 - Disscussion).
English is perceived as a passport which allows access to the world and contact with other
cultures and peoples. By the same token, the following excerpt echoes the widespread idea of
popular culture of equalizing English with success: With an L2 my income would be better; if I
speak a European language I stand out.
Excerpt Nº 4:
“Sí porque el idioma que más se utiliza es el inglés en cualquier trabajo bueno que
usted vaya a utilizar tiene que usar el inglés porque a nivel mundial se utiliza más…
es importante porque yo estoy en la sociedad y me destaco lo que significa que es
importante que todo el mundo lo sepa el inglés y se necesita porque es el idioma
mundial” (Student B1: – Interview Nº1)
Social mobility is commonly attached to elite languages. It has been a gate keeping instrument
for entering higher education and for job placement. Rejection to learning may arise “If English
operates as a major means by which social, political and economic inequalities are maintained
within many countries…” (Pennycook, 1994. p.18). The mastery of an elite language is also
associated with preparing school learners to compete in the labor market. The illusion of a ‘good
job’ is reproduced by student B’s words.
On the other hand, we do not have to go very far to find the source of discourses that assign an
excessive importance to the study of English. The excerpt below comes from a draft of one of
the student-teachers authoring this paper. It indicates that the hegemonic agenda pervades our
discourse and that we reproduce it without realizing its breadth and impact.
Excerpt No. 5
“English is not only spoken by native speakers, it is also spoken by second
language users due to the importance this language is getting through the time.
If a Colombian businessman is working in Germany, both the Colombian and his
German counterpart will speak English as a means to communicate in different
fields. In so doing, English is a worldwide language used as the language that
everyone manages to communicate with others and in some sense it is the official
worldwide language.”
The excerpts discussed above suggest a natural view, which is an assumption that somehow
supports the spread of English. It would be interesting to scrutinize the sources of the discourses
that influence the perception toward English language in our schools, and even more interesting
to research how to reverse hegemonic stances as Hamel (2003) does. Regaining the role of L2
learning as a humanistic discipline that bridges peoples and cultures ought to start by revising the
discourses that justify why L2 is in the school curricula.
In addition, the study of the L2 as a component of literacy - to read the world- would require
further exploration of scholars. For example, the role that English plays in literacy was rarely
acknowledged in the school where the study was carried out. There is nothing wrong with
perceiving English language proficiency as a passport to the world. However, this paper argues
that educators need to set an agenda that connects literacy and multiculturalism to the teaching
of other languages.
Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. New
York: Multilingual matters School education, City University of New York.
Chaparro, A, Cataño L, & Martínez, J.(in press). “Exploring the influence
of English Language Learning on Students’ Life Plan.”Bogotá: Universidad
Distrital Francisco José de Caldas.
Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language. Cambridge. UK: University
Pennycook, A. (1994).The Cultural Politics of English as an International
Language. New York: Longman London.
Hamel, R. E. (2003). Regional Blocs as a Barrier against English Hegemony?
The Language Policy of Mercosur in South America. Mexico City: Universidad
Autónoma Metropolitana. Available at:
Katherine Eliana Agudelo Soto
Universidad del Cauca
[email protected]
¨Enhancing Students’ Listening
Skills through Cognitive and
Metacognitive Strategies¨ A
Quasi-Experimental Research
The purpose of this research project was to improve self-conscious cognitive and metacognitive
strategies in students of 5th level of the Saturday English course at Unilingua. In order to achieve
this purpose, two groups of students of 5th level of the Saturday English course at Unilingua
whose ages ranged from 14 to 15 years old were randomly chosen. One of the groups was the
experimental group, whereas the other was the control group which was integrated by students
taking 5th level on Saturdays but in another classroom. The students who belonged to the control
group did not have any kind of academic contact with the researcher in charge. Furthermore, the
research undertook a four phase instruction period, starting with a pre-test measurement for both
groups, with the aim of gaining an insight of their listening proficiency and concluded with a posttest measure of both groups, which provided the grounds for analyzing the effects of cognitive
and metacognitive strategy instruction on students’ listening skills.
Key words: Cognitive and metacognitive strategies, research, listening skills.
The paramount aim of this research project was to determine if specific instruction on cognitive
and metacognitive strategies influences or not listening comprehension in fifth level students
at Unilingua. As the research project progressed, consequently, my scope drifted from its main
aim. Moved by the results I obtained in class, I began to ponder if other skills, such as reading,
writing and speaking were also influenced by cognitive and metacognitive strategy instruction.
Students are regularly exposed to L2 in class and outside the classroom; nevertheless, listening
has remained as a passive skill to be developed overtime. In recent years, the development
of second language acquisition theory has shed some light on the importance of listening in
facilitating language learning, (Dunkel, 1993). Nowadays, listening is recognized as an active
process, critical to L2 acquisition and deserving of systematic development as a skill in its own
right, (Morley, 1999). Previous studies indicate that English language teachers’ knowledge about
listening comprehension strategies is limited, moreover, listening strategies have rarely been
taught in the classroom nor have they been taught correctly, Rost, (1990). Additionally, EFL and
ESL language teachers constantly fall into a general assumption that foreign language students
know how to listen and that listening skills will develop in the same way as in first language
acquisition, Long, (1989). Nonetheless, research refutes this false generalization, (Long and
Omaggio, 1986).
The rediscovery of the importance of listening in SLA has incorporated other subjects into action
such as psycholinguistics, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, and cognitive sciences,
the integration which is very important for the development of listening skills in language learners
and it has also opened up new opportunities for pioneering research. As a result listening
comprehension has been recently recognized in second language acquisition as an active but
implicit process which involves complex problem solving skills, (Byrnes, 1984; Call, 1985;
Richard, 1983).
It is paradoxical that teachers regularly demand foreign language learners to be good listeners,
given that listening strategies remain to be weakly taught in many ESL or EFL programs, listening
being “the Cinderella skill”, (Mendelsohn, 1994); Nunan, 1997; Vandergrift,1997). To the above
mention, Brown (1987) observed that a significant number of published courses on listening
comprehension and classroom practices in many schools in many countries continue to
demonstrate that listening is still regarded as the least important skill in language teaching.
This research study intends to highlight the importance of reinforcing and adapting listening
instruction by using cognitive and metacognitive strategies into the classes taught at Unilingua on
Saturdays; this research project also endeavors to find out if specific instruction on cognitive and
metacognitive listening strategies, may significantly influence English listening comprehension
of students of 5th Level of the Saturday English courses at Unilingua. By adopting a mixed
methodology, the research study gathered qualitative and quantitative data which allows powerful
data analysis and enlightens future research. The research design facilitated data analysis and
provided me with remarkable findings on the results of my methodological proposal for teaching
listening in an EFL context. My role as a researcher and teacher of the experimental group also
allowed me to get to know students in a very special way as I could easily get feedback from tasks
and strategy selection.
The present research study is divided into six chapters, chapter 1 points out the importance of
listening in learning a foreign language; this chapter defines crucial aspects of this research
project, such as: objectives, research questions, hypothesis, reliability, validity and ethical
considerations, as an insider in teaching, the above mention presents the core elements of
this research. Chapter 2 explains the importance of this research study for the University of
Cauca, Unilingua and the students involved, taking into account that this is a pioneer research
study; this chapter unveils the significance of the research and provides an understanding of
the EFL context where it took place. Chapter 3 entails the “experimental conditions” or “study
environment”, with this in mind, the reader will be able to pinpoint the problem, hypothesis,
research questions and objectives as he/she advances in his/her reading. Chapter 4 describes the
mixed methodology, quantitative and qualitative used in order to delve into the research objectives
and hypothesis, neither methodology was given priority, although, the nature of the research
study “quasi-experimental” did required an intensive numerical data analysis, nevertheless, the
qualitative method being holistic, descriptive and subjective was also very important. Chapter 5
seeks to give a detail report of the descriptive data analysis, as well as the hermeneutic analysis
of an unstructured interview performed at the last stage of this research, the data analysis was
quantitative and qualitative as suggested in chapter 4. Chapter 6 designates the final conclusions
of the research study; this chapter entails the ultimate reflections of the research project. Chapter
7 gives some recommendations for students, researchers and Unilingua. Chapter 8 is the last
chapter and it provides the reader with all the appendices and works cited.
Thus, my research study on cognitive and metacognitive strategy influence on listening skills
represents an exciting collation of passionate, committed teaching from my side, as well as
students’ endeavor to advance towards high quality education and it also contributes to the study
of teaching and learning paradigms.
Figures and tables
Table 2. Inventory of Listening Strategies Adapted from Vandergrift (2003, 1997),
Chamot (1993), Young (1997) and Oxford (1990)
Strategy Type
Metacognitive Strategies
Metacognitive strategies are executive processes used to plan,
monitor, and evaluate a learning task.
Developing and awareness of what needs to be done to
accomplish a listening task, developing an appropriate action
plan or contingency plan to over plan difficulties that may
interfere with successful completion on the task.
1.1 Advanced Organization
Clarifying the objectives of an anticipated listening task that/or
proposing strategies for handling it.
1.2 Directed Attention
Deciding in advance to attend in general to the listening task
and ignore relevant distracters, maintaining attention while
1.3 Selective Attention
Deciding to attend to specific aspects of language input or
situational details that assist in understanding and/ or task
1.4 Self – Management
Understanding the condition that help one to successfully
accomplish listening task and arranging for the presence of
these conditions.
Checking verifying or correcting one´s comprehension or
performance on the course of a listening task.
2.1 Comprehension Monitoring Checking verifying, or correcting one´s understanding at the
local level.
2.2 Double - Check Monitoring Checking verifying, or correcting one´s understanding across
the task or during the second time through the oral texts.
Checking the outcomes of one´s listening comprehension
against an internal measure of completeness and accuracy.
4.Problem Identification
Explicitly identifying the central point needing resolution
in a task or identifying an aspect of the task that hinders its
successful completion.
Cognitive Strategies
Interacting with the material to be learned, manipulating the
material physically or mentally or applying a specific technique
to the language learning task.
1. Inferencing
Using information within the text or conversation context to
guess the meaning of unfamiliar language items associated with
a listening task or to fill in missing information.
1.1 Linguistic Inferencing
Using known words in an utterance to guess the meaning of
unknown words.
1.2 Voice Inferencing
Using tone of voice and / or paralinguistic to guess the meaning
of unknown words in an utterance.
1.3 Extra -Linguistic Inferencing Using background sounds and relationship between speakers in
an oral text, material in a response sheet or concrete situational
referents to guess the meaning of unknown words.
1.4 Between –Parts Inferencing Using information beyond the local sentential level to guess at
2. Elaboration
Using prior knowledge from outside the text or conversation
context and relating it to knowledge gained from the text or
conversation in order to fill in missing information.
2.1 Personal Elaboration
Referring to prior experience personally
2.2 Word Elaboration
Using knowledge gained from experience in the world.
2.3 Academic Elaboration
Using knowledge gained in academic situation.
2.4 Questioning Elaboration
Using a combination of question and world knowledge to
brainstorm logical possibilities.
2.5 Creative Elaboration
Making up a storyline or adopting a clever perspective.
3. Imagery
Using mental or actual pictures or visuals to represent
4. Summarization
Making a mental or writing summary of language and information
presented in a listening task.
5. Translation
Rendering ideas from one language in another in a relatively
verbatim manner.
6. Transfer
Using knowledge of one language (e.g., cognates) to facilitate
listening in another.
7. Repetition
Repeating a chunk of language (a word o phase) in the course of
performing a listening task.
8. Note- Taking
Writing down key words and concept while listening.
9. Deduction
Reaching a conclusion about the target language because of
other information the listener thinks to be true.
10. Resourcing
Using available references about the target language, including
textbooks or the previous task.
Graph 1 shows the pre-test skill performance on a 100 percentage scale for the
experimental and the control group, speaking, listening, writing and reading skills.
Graph 2 shows the contrastive analysis of the score average comparison of the
experimental and control group, pre-test vs. post-test measure.
Graph 3 shows in detail, the performance of each student (belonging to the experimental
or control group) on scale of 25 points (maximum score for the KET), the code for
each student is the same for the pre-test and post-test.
Graph 4.
Graph 5.
Graph 6.
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Jonathan Alexander Delgado Ochoa
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas
[email protected]
The Fluctuation of Power
Relations among High School
In this report, the findings of a Feminist Post Structuralist Discourse Analysis study (Baxter, 2003)
conducted in an EFL class, will be reported. The goal of this research was to unveil ways in
which students struggle over power while working on task based activities (Willis, 1996). The
main theoretical foundations for this study are Power Relations (Van Dijk, 1989), and Discourse,
(Schffrin, 1998). This study is relevant for the teacher researchers, since it might help those
who want to explore in depth how different sociolinguistic processes might affect students’
performance in the class and how the use of Task Based Learning approach provided a chance to
explore power relations in the class. The teacher – researcher, implemented teacher’s journals,
(Richards, 1991) to detect the research problem, sociograms (Emerson R. 1995) to map the
social groups in the class and determine the regular social interactions in the class and also video
recordings (Dufon M., 2002), which were done during the task planning stage, and also transcribed
taking into account the principles of spoken data management that Kowan and O’Conell present
(2010), based on the transcription systems of the Jeffersonian tradition. Thus, speech aspects
such as emphatic stress, pitch, emphasis, stress duration and loudness are shown through visual
changes in the letters of the transcriptions. The participants of the study were twelve tenth grade
students from a public school in Bogota. The criterion for the selection of the participants was
that they should have interacted during the recorded interactions. The transcriptions analyzed
through Feminist Post Structuralist Discourse Analysis have shown initials findings, such as
students assuming a teacher´s role (Castañeda 2008, Rojas, 2011) opposition and exclusion
among students (Goodwin, 2002), initiations and terminations of interaction (Barnes 2005) and
interruptions as a means to get others´ attention (Coker, 2011).
It has not been a secret for language teachers how students’ peer relations operate in a significant
way on their class performance and the classroom environment which has motivated many
teacher-researchers to go in depth through the understanding of these varieties of social practices
that operate at the same time with the learning processes in the class. In this way, I developed a
Feminist Post Structuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA) study (Baxter, 2003) in a public school in
Bogota, Colombia in order to understand how the enactment of power by part of students might
affect the learning environment, especially when implementing task based learning approach
(TBL), since according to Nunan, it requires communication and interaction among students in
order to achieve an outcome. (2004)
Thus, I became aware of the necessity of a real understanding of these phenomena through the
implementation and analysis of teacher´s journals, (Richards, 1991) in which I could see that
different speech acts such as commands and declarations (mention reference) performed by
some students, negatively affected the way in which some of the other students participated in the
English class. For instance, I selected the FPDA as a means of analyzing the students’ discursive
tools that might generate relations of power among them.
Van Dijk claims that “social power relationships are manifested through interaction” (pg. 20) he
also states that this power refers to the control of the actions by part of the group A or the members
of group A over a group B or its members. For instance, this control is exercised not only through
physical force (in some cases), but also through language, more specifically, through speech
acts such as suggestions, agreements, commands, requests, questions and so on, which can be
uttered either in a direct or indirect way. Additionally, Michel Foucault refers to this as a control
of mind by part of the powerful group or individual. Thus, the goal of the present research has
been to unveil the way in which some students exert this kind of mental control on other students
through interaction.
According to Foucault, power relations must be conceptualized from the perspective of subjects
in opposition to power, therefore, he claims that the struggles for power have some conditions
such as individuals that seek for the effects of power, instead of power itself; additionally subjects
explicitly oppose to the local source of power and not the existent institutionalized power. In
this way, students showed to be in a constant strike for empowering either themselves or to
another individual of the social group in order to have a control of the flow of thought during
discussions, which was the effect of power in the class demonstrated in this study, therefore they
were immersed in a constant fluctuation of oppositions and alliances as a means of struggling for
the effects of power in the class. Moreover, the focus of this study is to see how students opposed
to their local sources of power in their social group (in this case, the powerful students) rather
than the opposition to the teacher, who is the institutionalized power source in the classroom.
(McKroskey J & Richmond V, 1984)
In this study, discourse is seen as the language beyond language (Schiffrin, 2011) in other words,
what is meant to be communicated out of what is explicitly said, for instance, we are not only
communicating a message, we are transmitting to the speakers the way that we see and represent
the world e.g. our understanding of the mental and physical world and our relation with them.
(Fairclough, 2005) In addition to this, Van Dijk presents the way in which power and discourse are
explicitly related, he states that it is the powerful people who have control over certain discourses
that are practiced through the interaction, “they are not only active speakers in most situations, but
they may take the initiative in verbal encounters or public discourses, set the “tone” or style of text
or talk, determine its topics, and decide who will be participant or recipient of their discourses..”
(pg. 22) In this way, different writers provide us an overview of how power could be exercised
through different elements of discourse; the purpose of this study is to find out which of these
discursive elements are used by students to exercise power.
FPDA as a research approach
The research approach used in this project was Feminist Post Structuralist Discourse Analysis
(FPDA). This is a type of analysis that focuses on doing a micro-analysis to the discourse emerged
in natural and spontaneous interactions (Rojas, 2011, Castañeda 2008, Sunderland, 2005, Baxter
2003). Besides, FPDA is the scope that focuses on the “significant events” when subjects are
located through discourse into a social context, in terms of power and identity (Castañeda, 2008,
B) in other words, this methodology highlights the moments of natural interaction in which
empowerment of subjects occurs.
Consequently, I used video recordings in order to get students’ natural and spontaneous
interactions during the development of the tasks. For instance, the students were video recorded
during the planning stage of the task, since it was during this moment that students interacted
the most.
The Role of Task Based Learning approach and its implementation
According to Willis (1996), the tasks in the TBL frame, consist of activities where students practice
the target language with a communicative purpose and in this way, they get an outcome. Besides,
Nunan argues that the TBL allows natural communication among students since it focuses more
on the students’ fluency with the language, rather than the grammatical use of the language
(2004). Additionally, the classes were divided in various moments, during the first moment;
students participated in a warming up activity that was used as a means of presenting an input to
students. In the second moment of the class, students listened to the teacher’s instructions and
therefore, the teacher provided them with examples of the target language to be used, as well as
examples of what the teacher expected from them, which was taken as the pre task stage. In the
next stage, students were organized into groups and they started to plan the task. It was at this
stage that the recordings were done. Furthermore, students had to present and socialize the results
of their planning and development of the task. Finally, the teacher asked some follow up questions
about the use of grammar, gave feedback to the students and they could clarify any question about
the grammar studied during that class. In order to have more meaningful tasks for students, all the
tasks developed in this course were selected by students through a preferences survey made at
the beginning of the course. In this way, the pedagogical implementation of this study was framed
into the conceptualization provided by Willis (1996)
The Setting and population
As mentioned previously, this study was done in a public school in Bogota, Colombia. The
participants were twelve students of tenth grade from the afternoon shift and they received three
hours of English class per week. The students had a basic level of English. Furthermore, these
students voluntarily participated in the study and their parents agreed on their sons’ participation
through their signature in a consent form. Additionally, the students were selected taking into
account the number of times that they appeared in the recordings and the clearness of their
conversations. It is important to mention that the conversations that students had, were in their
mother tongue, since they did not have the appropriate level to discuss different topics in English.
Findings: The Power Relations Detected in the class interactions
This is an ongoing research study, which has provided some initial results that have strengthened
the findings of other researchers. Up to this point, I have defined some categories from the
findings, such as control of topics and opinions (Barnes 2005) in which the powerful students
decide what topic should be discussed by the group, who is able to talk and also when to finish
an idea of conversation. Students assuming a teacher role (Castañeda 2008, Rojas, 2011), in this
case, some students decide to help their classmates not only by explaining instructions to them
or the language to be studied, but also using different aspects of speech that give them authority,
such as question to check understanding and feedback on the other students’ work. Opposition
and Alliances (Goodwin, 2002), in this case, students empower themselves and others when they
discuss about a topic. The last category is voluntary subordination. In this case, some powerless
students, accepted their low-status role in their social groups, which was perceived and accepted
by others.
Students use different elements of speech to try to establish their discourses in a social group,
which were not shown here, due to the nature of this text. In order to achieve that, students engage
in a constant seek for power, in which the role that each member of the group assumes is an
important part in the process of the power fluctuation. Besides, the task based learning played
an important part in the research, since it motivated students to interact and become a part of a
social group.
Barnes Mary. (2005) Exploring How Power Is Enacted In Small Groups
University of Melbourne.
Baxter Judith. (2003) Positioning Gender in Discourse A Feminist Methodology
Palgrave McMillan.
Coker Wincharles (2011) Power Struggle in a Female Discussion: The Case
of a Ghanaian University.The International Journal – Language, Society and
Fairclough Norman (2003) Analysing Discourse. Routledge, New York
Foucault Michel (1982) The subject and Power Critical Inquiry Vol. 8 No. 4
Schiffrin Deborah (2011) Definiciones de Discurso Universidad Veracruzana
Instituto de Investigaciones en Educación.
Van DijkTeun (1989) Structures of Power and Structures of Discourse
Willies Jane.(1996) A framework for task-based learning.Harlow Longman
Jill Fortune
Universidad Externado de Colombia
[email protected]
Telly Addicts &Gleeks:
UsingModern Television Series for
an Improved SLA
Faced with a wealth of both authentic and ELT-specific audiovisual material available for use in
the classroom, teachers often feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. This paper analyses
popular teen musical series Glee in terms of its suitability for inclusion in an adolescent EFL
course, based on the hypothesis that it could constitute a useful tool for both teachers and
students. Having researched student interest in the programme, as well as teacher attitudes
towards using music and television in their courses, both linguistic and cultural aspects of
the series are examined, before drawing conclusions regarding the appropriateness of Glee for
teenage EFL learners. The findings confirm the programme’s popularity among students, and
show that teachers’ main concerns regarding the use of television relate to logistics and course
time constraints. The linguistic and cultural features of Glee can be considered an enriching
addition to students’ process of language acquisition.
Working in a university EFL context, Ur’s statement that “for inexperienced teachers, classes of
adolescents are perhaps the most daunting challenge” rings true (1991:290). A desire to help
prepare teachers to meet this challenge, while providing students with enjoyable and useful class
material led me to carry out this research.
Since Colombia’s national standards will soon require university graduates to reach a B2 level
on the CEFR (Colombian Ministry of Education, 2010), which means that they can understand
“programmes in the media and films” (Council of Europe, 2001:243), then video should logically
be considered as an integral part of the curriculum. This, together with the fact that television
plays such an important role in the lives of Colombians (93.7% of homes had a television in
2006. CNTV, 2006:19) drew me towards this resource as a possible starting point in meeting this
While studies have already been carried out regarding the language of youth and the practical
applications of culture, television and music in ELT as individual fields of study, this research
aims to combine these areas, by studying the merits for SLA of the relatively new genre of the teen
musical TV series, in a context of adolescent EFL students. Based on Glee’s success throughout
Latin America (Cine Premiere, 2009), as well as the idea that authentic materials are essential
to the EFL classroom (Hwang, 2005) and, of course, on the current situation and needs of the
learners and teachers in the context studied, this research is based on the hypothesis that Glee
would indeed be a valuable addition to this EFL context.
Given the brevity of this paper, a brief overview of the literature on this topic will be provided,
before summarising the results of the research in terms of student interest, teaching practicality
and the linguistic and cultural aspects of the programme. Finally, conclusions are drawn as to
Glee’s suitability for adolescent EFL learners.
Literature Overview
MacMathuna’s assertion that “the somewhat artificial and repetitious nature of classroom learning
in any subject can become monotonous for teaching and taught alike” (1996:185) (I guess she
missed something here) can lead us to suppose that in order to avoid such monotony, we must
aim to include authentic and variable aspects in the classroom. Deubelbeiss (2010) supports this
idea, adding that authentic materials must be “up-to-date”, since “nothing dampens the spirit of
the teenage learner more than drudgy, old, 30 year old language learning materials.” The use of
video and music in particular has been found to be motivating for students (Stempleski & Tomalin,
1990:1; Baoan, 2008).
There are, of course, both merits and dangers of using authentic materials in EFL. One of the most
important discussions is whether authentic materials are too challenging for lower-level students
(Kilickaya, 2004). Shrum and Glisa (1994, in Hwang, 2005:4) do claim, however, that learners
who listened to authentic texts achieved positive results. Linder (2000) provides a compromise
between these two views, suggesting that “it is the classroom tasks, not the authentic texts, that
must be designed for classroom use”, a concept supported by Stempleski and Tomalin regarding
video material (1990:9).
Anderson’s claim that activities should be kept short for teenagers (2008 in Deubelbeiss,
2010) is echoed by Ur’s concern that television programmes can be too long for use in class
(1997:67). However, as Harmer points out, there is nothing to stop us from using only extracts
from a programme rather than a whole episode (2007:308), and indeed Stempleski and Tomalin
recommend using segments as short as 30 seconds to encourage active viewing (1990:8-9).
Because songs are an integral part of Glee, we could say that it offers us ‘the best of both worlds’.
Listening is often considered the most difficult skill for students to master (Rixon, 1996:36),
as well as one of the most challenging for teachers to teach (Beare, 2010). However, Canning
Wilson’s point (2000:1) that video helps students to maintain interest and concentration in
listening means that video constitutes an almost vital tool in teaching listening comprehension
skills. Rixon supports this, claiming that video offers all the benefits of audio with the added bonus
of body language (1996:12)
While we would not expect EFL students to grasp the intricacies of deictic reference, we may wish
to follow Willis’ advice (1983:27) and use the paralinguistics in video as “aids to comprehension
with a heavy reliance on carry-over from the native language”, as well as to encourage students
to use Agarwal’s technique of interpreting the clues offered by body language to achieve a better
comprehension of L2 interaction (2011).
Ur (1997:66) suggests that television programmes can offer an enjoyable listening comprehension
activity, provided they are “based on good stories or interesting topics”, and Madjarovea et al.
(2001:237), who claim that “falling in love [is] an issue of eternal interest to teenagers”. Since
Glee includes plots regarding love and other ‘teen issues’ such as bullying or teenage pregnancy,
it could offer a possible way to interest adolescent students.
While Harmer describes music as “a powerful stimulus for student engagement” (2007:319), he
goes on to say that in the case of teens in particular, it can be difficult to know which songs are
popular with students at any given time (ibid:320). Given that Glee appears to present a range
of musical genres, it could be seen to offer ‘something for everyone’. Macias (2008) describes
how both of her own children (in their L1) and her students (in their L2) committed “vocabulary,
intonation and stress” to their permanent memory through the use of songs, offering it as an
example of Krashen’s 1983 theory that music can activate Chomsky’s Language Acquisition
Perhaps because authentic materials are often used as models for student output (Harmer,
2007:117; Linder, 2000), teachers are often wary of using music in class because of the excess
“slang and poor grammar” contained therein (Macias, 2008). Mindt used Corpus Linguistics
to show that the grammar used in authentic English language was indeed very different to that
presented in EFL textbooks (1996, in Hwang, 2005). Macias (ibid) responds to teachers’ anxiety
on this point, claiming that “by learning slang and a descriptive grammar”, students actually learn
more about the L2 culture.
Ten years after Brown stated that “second language learning is often second culture learning”
(1990:33), a 14-year-old suggested that “it would be nice if we are studying the language to know
a bit more about the country and what people are like there” (Jones, 2000:158). Unfortunately,
not all students have the opportunity to travel, and, since this is “beyond our scope as language
teachers…we need to reflect on what we can do within [the classroom] to foster ‘real’ English
learning and use” (Perez-Canado, 2009). Stempleski & Tomalin believe that “the next best thing”
to experiencing the actions of others is to watch them on video (1990:3).
Although it was already known that Glee had experienced success in Latin America (Cine
Premiere, 2009), initial interviews were carried out among students at the university to establish
its popularity among this particular demographic. This was followed by a questionnaire among
the teachers of the university English department, to explore their current use of music and video
in the classroom, as well as any previous use of Glee in their teaching. With these results in mind,
the television programme was analysed in terms of linguistic and cultural features that might affect
its suitability for use with the adolescent EFL students.
Results& Discussion
The students interviewed were 16-28 years old, the majority 19 or 20.
The initial student survey confirms Glee’s success, with almost half of the students (47%) already
watching the programme in their free time. Although slightly more popular with girls than boys,
the difference is minimal (50% vs. 44% respectively). Since of the remaining 53% who did not
watch Glee, 25% stated that they were unaware of its existence, 15% watched different channels
and a further 23% “did not know” or did not respond, it can be suggested that if made aware of the
programme, at least some of these students would watch it, and the initial 47% of Glee viewers
may well be pushed over the halfway mark.
Diagram 1: Teachers’ use of audio-visual material &Glee
As shown in Diagram 1 above, the majority of teachers (96%) already used music in their courses,
as well as films (85%). Television series, however, were used by less than half of the respondents
(41%), and no teachers used Glee with their students.
Diagram 2: Teacher reasons for using music, film or television with EFL students
Overall, of the 60 teacher responses regarding reasons for using music, film and/or television with
students, the most common was to help students improve listening skills (90% of responses),
followed by increasing student motivation (80%) and expanding student vocabulary (70%), as
represented in Diagram 2.
Diagram 3: Reasons teachers do not use television series with EFL students.
Diagram 3 shows that many teachers claimed not to use film or TV due to time constraints, or
else because of complicated logistics, supporting both Harmer (2007:185) and Ur (1997:67)
in their concerns about the disadvantages of using technology in the classroom. As these two
reasons would appear to apply to both films and television series equally, it is surprising to find
that overall, significantly more teachers used film more than television series with students (85%
vs. 41%, respectively – see Diagram 1).
Diagram 4: Average timing per section per episode
Diagram 5: Average length of each individual section type
On average, each episode lasts a little more than 59 minutes, and is broken into the sections
shown in Diagram 4. Diagram 5 represents the length of each recap, section of drama, song
and commercial break, on average over the five episodes. The fact that the songs in Glee break
up the sections of drama, making each one last an average of around three minutes, and each
song around two minutes, means that each episode is already broken down into the manageable
‘chunks’ or excerpts, as referred to by Harmer (2007:308), that can make classroom adaptation
Diagram 6: Songs performed
As shown in Diagram 6 above, the music performed in Glee includes a range of artists, genres
and eras; over the five episodes, a total of 21 different artists are represented, the earliest song
dating back to 1950 (“Get Happy” by Judy Garland) and the most recent from 2010 (Katy Perry’s
“Teenage Dream”). All songs are in English.
Diagram 7: Fillers used per episode
Diagram 8: Average no. fillers used per episode
In the five episodes, the characters in Glee used the ‘fillers’ kind of/kinda, sort of/sorta and like to
varying degrees, as shown in Diagram 7. Diagram 8 represents how, in whole figures, the mean
coincides with the modal and median values over the five episodes, showing the three fillers being
used eight times per episode.
Diagram 9: Slang/Swearing used in each episode
Diagram 10: Average slang/swearing over 5 episodes
As with fillers, the use of slang/swearing among the characters varies between episodes, ranging
from the modal value of three times per episode to triple that value. The breakdown is shown in
Diagram 9. Diagram 10 represents the average occurrence of slang/swearing by characters over
the five episodes as 4.8, slightly higher than the modal value 3 and the median of 4, because of
the “Never Been Kissed” episode, which showed a particularly high occurrence of 9.
Students should be exposed to many different varieties of language, particularly at higher levels
(Harmer, 2007:24), and it seems logical that as part of that, the language used by adolescents
would be of particular interest to adolescent students. One feature of such language is the
abbreviation of lexical items, 10 of which appeared during the five episodes of Glee studied here.
Since this is the type of language students may encounter in interaction with US youth, they would
hopefully find it relevant and therefore motivating (Dornyei, 2001:63) to have the opportunity to
understand it.
Diagram 11: Some of the idiomatic language used in Glee (Definitions are taken
from the 2006 Longman Exams Dictionary. The highlighted items show the author’s
definition, as the dictionary offered no definition or the wrong definition for this
The same applies to the use of other idiomatic language, such as that shown in Diagram 11. This
table includes the use of lexis that students may well have encountered in their textbook, but with
new meanings, for example ‘cool’ or ‘hot’ to relate to something other than the weather! Since
these two words, for example, appear two or three times in each episode of Glee, the programme
could be a useful vehicle for students to understand this part of language. With an average of just
over seven idioms or set expressions used in every episode, as well as a little more than eight
idiomatic multi-word verbs, the programme may well provide an interesting way to show students
how these, and other, lexical items are used in context by native L2 speakers, which, according to
Brown (2001:377) is the best way to internalise vocabulary.
Diagram 12: Themes and issues per episode
The central themes of the five episodes are; a) being yourself, b) religion/spirituality, c)
homosexuality, d) body insecurities and e) first kisses. Additional issues presented can be seen in
Diagram 12 above, and could be understood to be issues typical of those that Western teenagers
Although Glee could appear to be politically correct by including minority groups such as the
disabled, homosexuals, religious groups or racial minorities, the fact that so many of the Glee
Club members belong to one of these groups seems a little far-fetched. This raises the question
as to whether what the students are gaining in exposure to authentic L1 language, they are losing
in authentic L1 cultural representation - if we took the Glee characters to be representative of the
US, these minorities would no longer be minorities at all. The aspects that could be considered
a window on US life, such as the ‘jocks and cheerleaders vs. nerds’ or small-town homophobic
attitudes could equally be considered stereotypes, in addition to the more obvious examples
such as the effeminate homosexual or the butch female football coach. The variety of characters
offers more room for discussion in the classroom, and the responsibility perhaps lies with the
teacher to bring students’ attention to the exaggeration being used by the programme’s producers.
Glee’s high-school setting, with its mid-term exams and teenage romances would be familiar to
Colombian students, and the themes and issues represented could be considered a parallel to
their world. This, as in watching any soap operas, should help students to relate to the characters,
increasing their interest in the programme and consequently improve their motivation in the
course (Dornyei, 2001:76).
Just as Glee could be considered politically correct for including so many minority groups in the
programme, it is also often politically incorrect in its treatment of them. Since Glee’s humour
often lies in insulting minority groups, particularly the disabled and different religions, it perhaps
reiterates Sylvan Payne’s concern that the songs used in class should not offend anyone (in
Harmer, 2007:320). The exaggerated stereotypes contained in the programme, together with the
fact that its characters break out into song every three or four minutes show that Glee clearly does
not purport to be an exact portrayal of US life. However, just because the characters and situations
are exaggerated does not mean that they are not representative of the L2 culture to some degree,
and as such can be considered a useful tool in the EFL classroom.
The authentic mix of different genres of music with the (albeit fictional) drama of US teens mean
that Glee is relevant to adolescent students, as they can draw parallels to their own lives. The
use of a current popular television programme such as Glee addresses Deubelbeiss’ concern
that teenagers demand “the new” and “the now” (2010) and could help teachers to combat the
de-motivation caused by exam-focussed backwash (Hwang, 2005:2), at the same time as it helps
students to fulfil the requirements of the national standards, set out in the CEFR (2001).
The informal language used in Glee offers students the opportunity to hear ‘real’ language being
used by native speakers, in a way that textbooks rarely provide. The wealth of set phrases and
idioms used throughout the episodes means students have the chance to understand how these
lexical items are used in context, rather than learning the often outdated and decontextualised
expressions presented in textbooks.
The cultural content of Glee, while perhaps not as accurate as a documentary would be, offers
students some level of contact with the L2 culture that they might not otherwise have. The
sensitive issues tackled, particularly those related to religion, as well as the often politicallyincorrect content of the programme could potentially cause offence to some students. However,
despite Cook’s view that the authentic opinions of prejudiced people should be “excluded” from
the classroom (2011), such perspectives can offer the class the opportunity for discussion and
debate, as long as it is carried out sensitively and respectfully. This element of ‘freedom of speech’
will of course depend on the attitude of each teacher, and indeed of the institution.
Since teachers are already wary of using television with students because of time constraints,
the additional preparation required to use Glee could be discouraging for some staff members.
However, although more time may be needed initially, while teachers are trained to use Glee
effectively, and as they prepare tasks related to the material, this time should be recovered later,
as teachers begin sharing their materials with one another. Using the short ready-made ‘chunks’
of the programme rather than whole episodes can also help with teachers’ concerns regarding
time limitations. Because Glee can be watched both on television and the Internet, teachers could
have students watch it outside of class, which would help with the problems of logistics and
time constraints described by teachers in the questionnaire. This would also help foster learner
autonomy among students.
As with any resources, using Glee with EFL courses implies preparation from the teacher,
but considering the potential benefits it can bring students in terms of linguistic and cultural
authenticity, it may well be worth taking into account as an additional tool in adolescent EFL
classes. This study was carried out to evaluate the suitability of Glee for students at a specific
private university in Bogota. However, the implications of its findings could apply to students in
similar contexts.
Glee. Season 2. (2010) Britney/Brittany. USA, 20th Century Fox Television,
25th Nov 2010, VHS.
Glee. Season 2. (2010) Grilled Cheesus. USA, 20th Century Fox Television,
2nd Dec 2010, VHS.
Glee. Season 2. (2010) Duets. USA, 20th Century Fox Television, 9th Dec
2010, VHS.
Glee. Season 2. (2010) Rocky Horror Glee Show. USA, 20th Century Fox
Television, 16th Dec 2010, VHS.
Glee. Season 2. (2010) Never Been Kissed. USA, 20th Century Fox Television,
23rd Dec 2010, VHS.
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Beare, K. The Challenge of Teaching Listening Skills. Retrieved 15th Dec
2010 from:
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Merrill Valdes, J. Cambridge: CUP.
Brown, H.D. (2001) Teaching by Principles. An Interactive Approach to
Language Pedagogy.New York: Longman.
Canning-Wilson, C. (2000) Practical Aspects of Using Video in the Foreign
Language Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 11.
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Colombian National Television Commission. (2006) Annual Statistics Report.
CNTV website, retrieved 23rd May 2010
Cook, V. (2011) Writing Systems. Retrieved Feb 7th 2011: http://homepage.
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Deubelbeiss, D. (2010) ELT blog. Retrieved Jan 4th 2011 from: http://ddeubel.
Dornyei, Z. (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom.
Cambridge: CUP.
Harmer, J. (2007) The Practice of English Language Teaching. Essex: Pearson
Hwang, C.C. (2005) Effective EFL Education Through Popular Authentic
Materials. Asian EFL Journal, Vol. 7. Issue 1. Art. 7.
Jones, B. (2000) “Developing Cultural Awareness” in Issues in Modern Foreign
Languages Teaching. Editedby Field, K. London: Routledge-Falmer.
Jones, D.M. (1995) Why People Watch TV. Retrieved Jan 4th 2011: www.aber.
Kilickaya, F. (2004) Authentic Materials and Cultural Content in EFL
Classrooms. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X. No. 7.
Linder, D. (2000) Authentic Texts in ESL/EFL. TESOL Matters. Vol. 9 No. 6
Longman. (2006) Exams Dictionary. Essex: Pearson Longman.
Macias, E. (2008) Music and Songs in the Classroom: Techniques to Aid the
Language Learning Process. Retrieved Nov 15th 2010 from: http://searchwarp.
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Components in Irish-Language Teaching Programmes” in Language,
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Making the Shift towards ‘Real’ English.CCSE Journal Vol 2. No. 3. : www.
Rixon, S. (1996) Developing Listening Skills. Herts: Prentice Hall.
Stempleski, S. & Tomalin, B. (1990) Video in Action. Recipes for Using Video
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Jasson Urquijo
Centro Colombo Americano
Bogotá, Colombia
Improving Oral Performance
through Interactions Flashcards
This report is based on an action research multiple baseline design study across five different
qualitative aspects of spoken interaction used to evaluate the effectiveness of a flashcard system
to improve oral performance in the ESL classroom. The participants were ten children attending
third grade in a public school in Bogotá, and who were assessed as having low oral performance in
spoken English language. Results showed that the Interactions Flashcards system was effective in
improving oral performance in general, as well as in increasing levels in each one of the qualitative
aspects of spoken interaction including range, accuracy, fluency, interaction, and coherence.
Key words: Speech Communication; English as a Second Language; Oral Performance; Class
Activities; Elementary Education; Second Language Instruction; Direct Instruction Flashcards;
Interactions Flashcards; Qualitative Aspects of Spoken Interaction.
Interactions are used every day in our world and their mastery is an important skill for ESL learners
to acquire. An interaction is the basic dialogue form and thus the building block of conversation.
Some examples that are important are greeting someone in a hall, saying thanks to someone
who gave you something, and providing your name to a person filling out a form for you. An
interaction could be that a person asks “A: What’s your name?” to which you answer, “B: I’m John
Almond.”Previous researchers have referred to interactions as memorized phrases or routines that
learners use and allow them to play a part in basic interaction while their analytic linguistic ability
develops and allows them to communicate their needs and desires (Bassano, 1980). In sum, an
interaction is a basic dialogue in the form A: / B: that a person performs in a communicative setting.
Although using appropriate interactions is an important skill, teaching these in the public primary
schools in Colombian is not common. Content analysis of ten field logs compiled over the third
and fourth quarter of the second semester, 2010, at a public girl’s school in Bogotá, shows that the
kind of oral products learners achieve up to 5th grade is deficient to the point that learners do not
perform any basic interactions well. However, the same analysis reveals that low oral performance
is not caused by any learning disabilities students might have but rather by three main features.
First, teaching practices favored in public schools focus on memorization of vocabulary. Second,
activities in English classes tend to be non-communicative. Last, there are contextual constraints
of space, time, and resources. Regardless of these conditions, there are many strategies to help
a child learn interactions and move beyond the level of using single words or isolated vocabulary
items to communicate.
Teaching routine formulas of prefabricated interactions can be traced back to the 80´s when it was
tested as a possible strategy for learners in basic levels to be able to perform early communication
(Bassano, 1980). Furthermore, previous research on teaching methods used to improve oral
performance among basic learners in the elementary school can be found in an initial study
regarding formulaic speech, according to which, there is evidence that in the initial periods of
second language development, formulaic speech may be more substantial than creative rules(Ellis,
1983). More recent research regarding formulaic language and its role in second language
acquisition points out how it has generally received only minimal attention within linguistic
and second language acquisition theory (Weinert, 1995). However, its importance for everyday
interaction has also been pointed out. Wray says we appear to rely on holistic processing in the
course of normal interaction, not because using the analytic system is impossible, but because
it is an expensive strategy (Wray, 1998). Still, there are no studies readily available that deal with
the effectiveness of ways to teach memorized speech segments to beginning language learners,
nor for the particular case of using flashcards to teach interactions.
One purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching interactions using a
flashcard procedure, Interactions Flashcards, to improve the oral performance of third graders. A
second purpose was to develop a measurement of oral performance in order to have a quantitative
indicator of the qualitative aspects of interaction according to the Common European Framework
of Reference. The final purpose was to start a sequence of research procedures that aim at the
identification of kinds of flashcards that can be designed in order to improve oral performance in
students of English as a second language.
The Issue
Low Oral Performance
The problem identified is that learners in elementary school have low oral performance in English
classes. This issue was identified via content analysis of ten field logs that registered the third
and fourth academic terms of the year 2010.The field logs revealed difficulties in learners’ ability
to produce oral outcomes in English. The analysis also revealed that in comparison to written
outcomes, oral outcomes were of much lower level. The factors affecting oral performance were
found to be the lack of thinking time (classes are short), lack of concentration on task (there
are many learners in class, about 40), and institutional interruptions (classes are interrupted for
announcements or other school activities). The main indicator of low oral performance is that
learners showed very little to no participation in English and poor quality of interaction. A very low
percentage of the learners had an adequate oral performance in English.
The problem of low oral performance was confirmed by means of accuracy analysis of an oral
interview with the following five open questions: 1) How are you? 2) What´s your name? 3) What
color is this? (showing an object), 4) What do you do in the morning? 5) What do you do at night?
All of the questions relate to the A1 band of the Common European Framework of Reference, which is
the level that, according to Colombian standards, learners should reach by third grade. This second
analysis revealed that on average learners could only answer one of the five questions accurately.
The Innovation
A description of the use of flashcards in teaching students of English as a second language
(ESL) to interact by using dialogues for conversation should begin with a review of the literature
concerning the form and content of flashcards. Flashcards are a type of data-based instructional
strategy that is usually associated with the Direct Instruction (DI) procedures, described by Silber,
Carnine, and Stain (1981) for teaching math. In this procedure, the teacher presents flashcards
and provides immediate feedback to students after allowing some time for the learner to respond
and then rewarding correct responses and providing models for correcting errors. Error cards
are used again later in order for the learner to be able to master all of the concepts in the cards.
DI flashcards, due to their procedure, have been used to master concepts and discrete items of
curricula, especially in math (Karp&Voltz, 2000), and many times their use has been in the field
of special education (Maccini& Gagnon, 2000).
Even though flashcards can be easily adapted to a variety of academic areas (Erbey, et al, 2011),
in the field of language teaching, these flashcards are mostly focused on the mastery of sight
words (Ruwe, et al, 2011), and thus they have become widely used as a way to learn vocabulary,
and popularized under the name of vocabulary flashcards. The ways in which flashcards are
used today have also changed the procedure under which they were conceived, changing from
a teacher-centered DI flashcard, to a self-study flashcard. The widespread use of vocabulary
flashcards is no surprise since the use of DI Flashcards aligns perfectly for teaching items of
language that are isolated from context, or discrete.
In order to create flashcards that deal with something else than vocabulary, some design principles
may also be adopted from their use in special education. Even though the students in this study
are not developmentally delayed, they do face a number of contextual limitations that may well
cause the same effects as learning disabilities. As such, it is interesting to explore Carnine’s
design suggestions of using big ideas; conspicuous strategies; efficient use of time; clear, explicit
instruction on strategies; and appropriate practice and review (Carnine, 1997). According to
Cardine, a wider application of these design principles in instructional material and in actual
teaching, could contribute to far higher achievement levels of performance (Carnine, 1997).
Furthermore, it has been shown, that a combination of direct instruction with strategy instruction
can increase the positive effect that either one of the models has on its own (Ellis, 1993; Karp
&Voltz, 2000). This means that strategy instruction can help learners gain the maximum benefit
from techniques such as the use of DI Flashcards. But teaching a particular skill through the
use of DI Flashcards and complementing it by providing information storage and retrieval
strategies could actually be taken further by including a communicative component that uses the
conversational element implicit in the use of flashcards to ensure a tool that would take students
beyond the mastery of discrete items and the strategic storage and retrieval of information. The
result of such process is a kind of flashcard that allows users to practice, remember and master
basic interactions.
Interactions Flashcards
In language learning a flashcard is typically considered to be any card printed with pictures, words
or numbers and used as part of a learning drill. Although this definition could be good enough for
the purpose of this study, there are other details of flashcards that would help clarify the specific
features of the kind of flashcard that was designed in the execution of this project.
The main characteristics of a flashcard are size, content, topics, usage, and nowadays, due to the
development of the information and communication technologies (ICT), format. Many of these
characteristics are not differentiating. Two identical flashcards, except for their size, let’s say one
is bigger than the other, do not really have a different impact on learning. Flashcards are usually
designed to be about the size of a playing card just so they can be easily handled in a deck, not
because they would be more effective. Similarly, two flashcards that are the same, except for their
topic, one for math and another for English, would probably have the same impact on learning.
This is why flashcards can be used to learn virtually any set of information.
In elementary schools, flashcards are often employed to help students with memorization of
basic math principles. When used to teach a foreign language, they are usually proposed to
help students review vocabulary words and their meanings. One study shows a setting in which
students print an unfamiliar word on one side of an index card and on the other side, they write the
sentence in which the word was found, the dictionary pronunciation guide entry, and a paraphrase
of the dictionary definition (Thompson, et al, 1984). This study showed that flashcards enhance
interaction in the classroom and increase learners’ confidence.
Other characteristics of flashcards could be considered differentiating. When using a flashcard,
the particular procedure that is followed could affect the learning level. The basic procedure
consists of an individual holding up a card and showing one side of the card to another person,
prompting a response. If the response is accurate, the next card is displayed and so on. However,
some students use flashcards on their own to quiz themselves. There could be learning level
differences between the social use of flashcards and their individual use. Also, the electronic
variations of flashcards created and administered by computer software specially designed for this
purpose and online flashcards that are available make it possible for students to have a procedural
guide or study with sets of flashcards that are already made instead of creating their own. It may
be that real flashcards and virtual flashcards have different effects on learning.
Perhaps, the most differentiating factor of flashcards is content. All flashcards by definition
imply a question and an answer. A vocabulary flashcard shows a picture of an apple and when
a person is shown that flashcard, they are to say “apple” in order to get the “correct” answer.
Instead, today you can see cards with no question, like those that only have a word written on
them, or ones that have the question and the answer on the same side even though the basic
concept is that a flashcard is designed with a question on one side and an answer on the other.
Furthermore, most of the flashcards for language teaching are vocabulary flashcards in which the
content in the question/answer format is a combination of images/words. There are some other
kinds of flashcards for language teaching that are definitions flashcards in which the content is
word/definition. Another kind of popular language teaching flashcard is that known as synonyms
flashcard in which the content is a question/answer combination of word/synonyms.
The kind of flashcards designed for the purpose of this study were called Interactions Flashcards
due to the fact that their first differentiating characteristic, that of content, in the format question/
answer, is an interaction in the form A:/B:, for instance, A: Thank you./B: You’re welcome. Also,
the second differentiating characteristic, usage, has been clearly changed from the typical
DI procedure to a procedure that mixes the direct instruction with strategy instruction and
communicative approaches to language teaching and learning.
Participants and Setting
The participants of this study were ten third grade children with low oral performance in English.
Participants were all female, ranging in age from 6 to 8 years, and who could not perform any basic
interaction in English. The study took place within the English class of a third grade classroom
at a public school in the south of Bogotá. All of the participants were in the afternoon session
of elementary school. The English class was part of a standard elementary education English
program consisting of a wide variety of students with low oral performance in English and no
ability to deal with interactions. Data on individual students’ oral performance was collected
during the class in sessions that lasted approximately 10 - 15 minutes per participant at a location
outside the classroom away from other children in order to reduce distractions.
Interactions Flashcards (IF) Procedure
The classroom activities planned and used with Interactions Flashcards is outlined in seven steps
that lead students gradually from an initial encounter with Interactions Flashcards to the ability to
converse logically without direct reference to them.
Step 1: Looking at samples. The first step is to introduce the Interactions Flashcards and develop
familiarity with them. This can be done by bringing a set of Interactions Flashcards to class for
learners to understand how they look and work.
Step 2: Creating. The second step involves plotting sample dialogues on the flashcards, which
the learners do themselves, from a fixed set of interactions provided by the teacher under a
specific context, called generative topic. Generative topics are decided depending on the school’s
curriculum, for example, greetings, personal information, spelling, etc.
Step 3: Personalizing. The third step is for learners to plot more dialogues on the flashcards,
this time using the generative topics to propose the interactions they would like to learn in
English. They can initially say what they want to learn in Spanish and then the teacher can
provide the language input of the interaction in English. For instance, students would want to
learn the interaction: A: “¿Cómo se llama tumamá?” /B: “Se llama Ana.” The teacher provides the
interaction: A: What’s your mother’s name? / B: It’s Ana.
Step 4: Playing. The fourth step, accomplished by students in pairs, is to develop the interaction
under the topic and sequence in the flashcards. Learners can turn this into a game since they try to
get points by answering the most questions correctly using the Interactions Flashcards as a guide.
Teacher modeling in this activity is a must.
Step 5: Testing. The fifth step is a testing exercise using groups of three or more students, in
which one student holds up these flashcards containing linguistic input and tests other students
on their ability to create a logical conversation by responding appropriately. Teachers can use the
previous step in which they were playing and turn it into a more serious assessment moment by
guiding learners to give corrective feedback to each other.
Step 6: Speaking. The sixth step begins with a brief role play exercise in which the teacher explains
the rules of interaction, implicit in the Interactions Flashcards, and students pair off to create
basic dialogues or conversations according to what they have practiced using the Interactions
Flashcards. It continues with the gradual elimination of the use of the Interactions Flashcards for
reference. Teachers motivate students by telling them they do not need the Interactions Flashcards
anymore in order to be able to perform dialogues since they already remember how to interact.
Step 7: Interviewing. The final step consists of the recording of students’ performance when
executing dialogues without the use of Interactions Flashcards. Teachers interview learners
by using the same interactions they have practiced and record their results. Feedback can be
provided by pointing out which Interactions Flashcards learners need to work more on.
All of the steps above were carried out over the course of the first semester 2011. The English
language standards for Colombia and the curriculum of the school were used as a point of reference
in order to determine the generative topics and the fixed set of Interactions Flashcards learners
were to create. A chart containing all the design elements was developed. A pace schedule
served in order to organize the work in class. Both of the above were included in a booklet called
Interactions Flashcard Project which provided general information. It included a description of the
main project elements, such as the A1 and spoken interaction, descriptors (CEFR), and the oral
performance achievement indicators from the Colombian standards for English, as well as a list of
the generative topics and interactions used.
Performance was recorded for evaluation using tools specifically developed for this study: forms
called RAFIC Charts and a measuring tool called RAFIC Quotient. RAFIC is an acronym for the
qualitative aspects of spoken interaction: Range, Accuracy, Fluency, Interaction, and Coherence,
which are mentioned in the Common European Framework of Reference (Council of Europe,
Language Policy Division, 2010). RAFIC Charts are instruments to collect information under
those categories and the RAFIC Quotient is a quantification of the results.
All the participants used index cards to create their flashcards. One side of the card had part A:
from an interaction in the form A:/B: in a size, format and design decided by the participant. The
other side had part B: from the interaction so that the participants and teacher could easily practice
the interactions, give corrective feedback and play with the flashcards. A data sheet was used
before and after work with Interactions Flashcards for each participant which consisted of the five
qualitative aspects of spoken interaction being tested. Data sheets, RAFIC Charts, were marked
for correct or incorrect answers using a check mark for correct and an x for incorrect. Correct and
incorrect answers were later turn into a numeric indicator called RAFIC quotient.
Dependent Variable and Measurement Procedures
The dependent variable for all the participants in the study was correct oral execution of
interactions. For the ten children a high level of oral performance was defined as the learner
answering a question correctly or reacting appropriately to an expression before moving on to the
next question. The questions asked, which corresponded to the questions learners used to create
their set of Interactions Flashcards, were prepared in an oral interview which consisted of five open
questions to which learners were to listen and answer orally.
The questions of the interview were: 1) Hi, how are you? 2) What´s your name? 3) How do
you spell it? 4) What color is this (showing an object), and 5) What are your favorite school
subjects?. Performance while answering those questions was recorded before and after the work
with Interactions Flashcards by using RAFIC Charts. The RAFIC Quotient was then obtained
by assigning a value of zero, or one, to each one of the aspects of Range, Accuracy, Fluency,
Interaction, and Coherence, and adding those values in order to have a number between zero and
five. The RAFIC Quotient is a quantitative way of measuring oral performance.
Additionally, in order to have a reference point to contrast learners’ oral performance in English,
a second interview was designed to record learners’ oral performance in Spanish for the same
interactions they were to be instructed in English. These allowed the identification of the baseline
level of oral performance in English and in Spanish before the use of Interactions Flashcards and
the later identification of level of oral performance in English and Spanish after the work with
Interactions Flashcards. All of the above was observed for five points: Range, Accuracy, Fluency,
Interaction, and Coherence.
The findings show that Interactions Flashcards improve oral performance for three reasons. First,
Interactions Flashcards foster the integrated upgrading of all of the qualitative aspects of spoken
language. Second, Interactions Flashcards aid subjects’ ability to deal with the generative topics
given and serve as a tool for learners to accomplish achievement indicators within those topics.
Last, Interactions Flashcards impact learners’ behaviors and foster the development of social skills.
Oral Performance
After using Interactions Flashcards, the subjects’ oral performance and ability to deal with the
questions for the generative topics in English improved 265% from the baseline determined
before implementation of the IF procedure. Also, the subjects’ oral performance and ability to
deal with the questions for the generative topics in Spanish, improved in 40% from the baseline
determined before IF procedure.
However, the improvement above can also be discriminated in the elements of the RAFIC in order
to see which qualitative aspects of spoken language improved most after work with Interactions
Flashcards. In English, the most representative descriptor was that of Fluency; in Spanish, the
most representative descriptor was that of Accuracy. In English, the second most representative
descriptor was Interaction, while in Spanish, the second most representative descriptor was
Range. In English, the Accuracy descriptor was third, followed by Range, and Coherence, while in
Spanish, the Interaction descriptor was third, followed by Coherence, and Fluency.
Generative Topics
Interactions Flashcards helped learners improve their ability to deal with the generative topics of
greetings, personal information, objects and colors, places and things, and alphabet and spelling,
in English as well as in Spanish, even though the Interactions Flashcards were designed for the
five generative topics only in English.
In English as well as in Spanish, the most representative generative topic was that of alphabet
and spelling, the fourth was that of objects and colors, and the least representative was that of
greetings. However, while in English the second most representative generative topic was places
and things, in Spanish, it was peoples’ information. In English, people´s information was third
while, in Spanish, it was places and things.
Achievement Indicators
Interactions Flashcards proved to be a great tool for learners to accomplish the achievement
indicators of the Colombian standards for English language in the generative topics given. They
allowed subjects to greet others by using daily expressions to say hello and goodbye, and to ask
and answer questions about the way they are feeling, people around them, the color of objects
they know, and places they are familiar with. Learners also stated their basic classroom-related
personal needs by using daily expressions.
Learners’ Behaviors
Interactions Flashcards have a positive effect on learners’ behaviors because students considered
them to be a great tool for achieving the goals set for their level, and thus they were more
motivated. Interactions Flashcards fostered the development of social skills they need in order to
deal with content in English. There are a number of skills that the Use of Interactions Flashcards
fosters. 1) Subjects use non-verbal communication when they cannot answer verbally about
their preferences, for example, they show agreement or disagreement by moving their heads. 2)
Subjects use gestures in order to make their ideas more understandable, for example when they
show each other in a card what they are saying. 3) Learners are constantly checking on their card
if what they, or a partner, say is correct and, with a little leading, they turn the use of the cards into
a game. 4) Learners are frequently and constantly faced with messages their partners say that they
do not fully understand and their common reaction is to ask for repetition or clarification.
Most teachers would agree that flashcards can help people of all ages with memorization.
Additionally, there are many approaches to their use, such as the strategic and the communicative,
that allow us to see how simple flashcards have a perhaps unexplored albeit vital role as part of the
learning environment in the ESL classroom. For students at risk or with disabilities or contextual
limitations, these approaches are crucial for the retention of new skills (Ellis, 1993).
In general, researchers and authors have emphasized the primary importance of not only promoting
the use of oral skills such as instruction of formulaic speech for early communication, but there
are also many ways to teach interactions to children in order to help them improve their oral
performance. Furthermore, one strategy available to beginning learners of English as a Second
Language (ESL) in order to learn interactions is the use of flashcards.
In Colombian public schools, a context in which there is resistance to change in terms of teaching
methods, a lack of the use of communication for fostering learning, and great density of learners
per class, little time devoted to English learning and shortage of resources, there is definitely a
population of learners who appear to require a more structured and systematic approach when
learning communication skills. One way to address the difficulties mentioned above and to
provide a structural and systemic tool for teaching interactions is to use Interactions Flashcards.
However, giving flashcards the role they deserve in the learning environment of the ESL classroom
is not enough since the greater the importance a teaching method is given in a class, the greater
knowledge teachers and learners need to have of such method. This study did not just focus on
making amazing flashcards, using DI as a basis and including strategic and communicative ideas,
for studying, storing or retrieving information, but rather on how to make appropriate flashcards
depending on the particular features of their genesis.
The findings in this particular study clearly show that the use of Interactions Flashcards allows for
the improvement of the oral performance in English as well as in Spanish. The overall outcomes
indicate a large increase in correct responses after implementing the Interactions Flashcard
system. Also, a high ratio of mastered to unmastered interactions was also demonstrated. Besides
that, Interactions Flashcards not only improve oral performance, but also subjects’ ability to deal
with generative topics, and on learners’ behaviors. More surprisingly, Interactions Flashcards
foster the integrated improvement of all of the qualitative aspects of spoken language since
they help subjects improve their vocabulary range, their grammar accuracy, their fluent use of
language, their asking and answering of questions for interactive communication, and their use of
connectors to achieve coherence in English as well as in Spanish.
Interactions Flashcards can be considered a practical, low cost, easy to implement, and user
friendly procedure to improve interaction for elementary school students with low oral performance
in English, which additionally can have a positive impact on learners’ oral performance in Spanish.
The applicability of employing Interactions Flashcards procedures is still open for discussion and
directions for future research need to be posed.
Bassano, Sharron. (1980) Instant Interaction for Entry-Level ESL Students.
CATESOL Occasional Papers, Number 6, p40-50, Fall 1980. From ERIC
online database (No. ED200058)
Carnine, D. (1997) Instructional design in mathematics for students with
learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 30(2):130-41. College of
Education, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA.
Council of Europe.Language Policy Division.The Common European
Framework of Reference. CEFR.
Ellis, E. S. (1993). Integrative strategy instruction: A potential model for
teaching content area subjects to adolescents with learning disabilities. Journal
of Learning Disabilities, 26, 358–383.
Ellis, Rod. (1983) Formulaic Speech in Early Classroom Second Language
Development. Selected Papers from the Annual Convention of Teachers of
English to Speakers of Other Languages 17th, Toronto, Canada, March 15-20,
Erbey, R., McLaughlin, T.F., Derby, K. M., & Everson, M. (2011) The effects
of using flashcards with reading racetrack to teach letter sounds, sight words,
and math facts to elementary student with learning disabilities. International
Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 3(3), 213 – 226.
Karp, K. S., &Voltz, D. L. (2000).Weaving mathematical instructional strategies
into inclusive settings. Intervention in School and Clinic, 35, 206–215.
Maccini, P., & Gagnon, J. C. (2000). Best practices for teaching mathematics
to secondary students with special needs. Focus on Exceptional Children, 32,
Ruwe, K., McLaughlin, T.F., Derby, K. M., Johnson, K. (2011) The multiple
effects of direct instruction flashcards on sight word acquisition, passage
reading and errors for three middle school students with intellectual disabilities.
Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 23, 241 -255)
Silver, J., Carnine, D.W., & Stein, M. (1981) Direct Instruction Mathematics.
Columbus: Charles E. Merril.
Thompson, Loren C.; Frager, Alan M. (1984) Individualized Vocabulary
Instruction in Developmental Reading. (ED253844) From ERIC online
database (No. ED200058)
Urquijo, Jasson. (2011) Improving Oral Performance through the use of
Interactions Flashcards. Un-published undergraduate thesis, Universidad
Pedagogica Nacional, Facultad de Humanidades, Departamento de Lenguas.
Weinert, Regina. (1995) The Role of Formulaic Language in Second Language
Acquisition: A Review. Applied Linguistics 16 (2) 180-205
Wray, Alison. (1998) Protolanguage as a holistic system for social interaction.
Language and communication. 18 47-67. Centre for Applied Language Studies,
University of wales.
This research was completed in fulfillment for an undergraduate program in Licenciatura en
Educación Básica con Énfasis en Humanidades: Español e Inglés from the Universidad Pedagógica
Nacional. The author would like to thank the participants, the school, the classroom teacher and
university advisors for their cooperation. Requests for reprints should be sent to Jasson Urquijo,
Centro Colombo Americano, Bogotá, or via email at [email protected].
Carlo Granados Beltrán
and Mónica Rodríguez Bonces, PhD ca
Institución Universitaria Colombo Americana – ÚNICA
Email: [email protected]
[email protected]
Creating a Culture of Faculty
Empowerment through
Professional Development
The main objective of the session was describing the initial stages in the experience of designing
a Professional Development (PD) Programme addressed to professors of a Bilingual Education
major at ÚNICA in Bogotá. During the session researchers explained the steps taken for the
creation of the programme and the philosophy behind it which consisted in exploring the strengths
of the members of the faculty in order for them to become its initial trainers. The session covered
the explanation of the instruments designed, the model proposed and a general overview of the
sessions implemented. Finally, the contributions for the field and for other institutions were stated.
Key words: professional development, curriculum, policy
ÚNICA, as a teachers’ college, focuses on preparing teachers in areas such as research, pedagogy,
linguistics, literature, and educational administration; nonetheless, attention is also devoted to the
continuous professional development of its current staff as it is stated in the vision and mission
of the college. Continuous improvement at ÚNICA demands the consolidation of professional
development (PD) practices that also respond to national policies. The desire to implement a
PD policy and framework is also rooted in some guidelines given by the National Ministry of
Education in Chapter III, Art.6 Decree 272, 1998:
En el marco de la autonomía y de la interdisciplinariedad, y con la finalidad explícita
de conformar y fortalecer comunidades académicas, las facultades de educación o
las unidades académicas dedicadas a la educación podrán asociarse con unidades
académicas o facultades dedicadas al desarrollo de otros saberes, en la misma o en
otra institución universitaria o universidad, para ofrecer conjuntamente programas
de formación de educadores, desarrollar líneas de investigación educativa o
promover programas de servicio educativo a la sociedad.” (Art. 6)
This decree shows the importance any professional development program has in terms of qualifying
education and in the way interdisciplinary may be a strategy to offer this kind of programs to
the community. Succeeding in the society involves clear processes within the university. In this
respect ÚNICA creates in the faculty an environment to do cross curricular work that goes beyond
planning; it also involves doing research or coaching. Besides, through the continuing education
program, the college opens its doors to the community offering courses that are delivered as part
of the electives for the postgraduate program
This article, number six (6), has a paragraph that gives another reason to undertake research on
professional development:
PARÁGRAFO. Las facultades de educación o las unidades académicas dedicadas
a la educación asumirán como compromiso específico contribuir al desarrollo
pedagógico y a la cualificación de los profesores de la educación superior en general,
y en especial los de su propia universidad o institución universitaria. (Art. 6)
This paragraph highlights the mission that teacher preparation programs have of not only
preparing educators belonging to other universities or school systems but most important, their
own professors. For this purpose, ÚNICA established a PD Program that, after being implemented
at the college, may be adopted by other institutions that not only want to offer teacher training but
also empower their own faculty.
Additionally, considering quality assurance for both Registro Calificado and Certificación de Alta
Calidad, this project was aligned with the objectives of the teacher preparation program mission,
vision and the following five out of ten factors considered by organizations like Comisión Nacional
de Aseguramiento de la Calidad de la Educación Superior(CONACES) and Consejo Nacional
de Acreditación (CNA): students, professors, academic processes and curriculum guidelines,
research, and capacity to innovate; being professors the most important factor for this project.
Making a point of this case, if one considers the indicators for professors, four characteristics
are mentioned: professors’ profile, production, relationship professor/students and professional
development policies. Although these regulations apply for postgraduate programs, ÚNICA
connects undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
Research Questions:
In order to create the professional development program a research project was carried out.
This research had as main goals to determine the characteristics of a professional development
program for professors at ÚNICA by identifying the needs for both full and part-time faculty,
having in mind the college mission and vision. The product of this research not only established a
professional development program but also the Institutional Policy in this field.
Main question
• What are the characteristics of a model for a Professional Development Program at ÚNICA?
Sub questions
• What are the strategies that a professional development program for undergraduate professors
at ÚNICA should include?
• How can the specific professional development needs and interests of faculty members at
ÚNICA be established in an institutional policy?
Theoretical Framework
In order to be better informed about which could be the most appropriate way to approach
the creation of a professional development program at ÚNICA, there was the need to explore
some theories that provided a foundation for its creation as well as for the expected outcomes
and shortcomings. To this end, ideas in relation to professional development, its relation with
empowerment, the possible models, requirements and modes are explained below within a
curriculum development methodology.
Professional Development (PD)
Professional development is a complex term to define since it has been used in connection
with other aspects of teaching such as training, appraisal, supervision and professional identity.
Wallace (1991) explains that the difference between training and development lies on who does
the action; training indicates that the action is played upon teachers by someone else, usually an
expert, while development indicates a sense of agency, that is to say, an action taken by teachers
themselves in order to gain new learning experiences.
For the purpose of this study, professional development is understood as the voluntary ongoing
process in which teachers get involved for acquiring, renewing or widening their knowledge and
practices for the benefit of the students, the educational institutions and education in general. It
implies a commitment to reflection and change in order to maintain a critical attitude to established
theories and practices and their relation with particular contexts (Rodríguez and Granados, 2012).
PD and Empowerment
One of the ideas behind offering a PD program at ÚNICA was empowering faculty. Kreisberg
(1992) and Short (1994) define teacher empowerment as the process in which faculty members
develop the competence to take charge of their own growth, resolve their problems and meet the
needs they require for their particular workplace. Smith and Lotven (1994) add that empowerment
entails the exercise of power in the search for occupational improvement, professional autonomy
and the improvement of education in general.
Model for PD
The reflective model used for the PD program has the purpose of linking received knowledge,
obtained by means of research, with the knowledge acquired through practice. Therefore,
the experiences of the teachers are valued since they enrich research and foster professional
competence. Knezevic and Scholl (in Freeman and Richards, 1991) explain that reflection has the
power of helping the teacher to connect experience with theoretical knowledge to use the area of
expertise more efficiently.
Modes of Teaching and Learning in PD Programs
For the PD program at ÚNICA workshops, tutorials, coaching, observation, among others were
used. These modes were selected because they were centered on the needs and dynamics of the
particular setting where the interactions and the dynamics were reflected on, questioned and acted
upon. Below, each one of the modes is briefly defined:
Research Design
Curriculum development provides a baseline to organize any proposal that implies a series of steps
in any program implementation; it is not exclusive to syllabus or course design. For the program,
Graves’ model (1996) provided a framework for curriculum development (see Figure 1.1) which is
systematic. It includes some steps that permit course developers or curriculum specialists design
appropriate programs. As in this specific case, the goal was to design a professional development
program, such methodology provided the necessary steps for our own proposal.
Based on this, the PD model was designed as follows:
Goals of the Professional Development Program at ÚNICA
The professional development program had as main goals:
1. To provide teacher development in the areas UNICA professors consider relevant
2. To empower faculty
3. To assure quality in education by providing opportunities for professional development
The execution of each one of the different phases of the Professional Development Model is
explained concisely in the following section.
Phase 1 Needs Analysis
Following the proposed steps for Curriculum Development stated in the model, the research team
did some needs analysis by means of two questionnaires. The purpose of these instruments was
to gather information about the participants’ profile which let us identify professors’ academic
background, areas of interest, experiences, and expectations to plan phase 2 of the PD Program
proposed. Also, questionnaires allowed researchers to do some benchmarking to see what other
institutions were doing in terms of professional development. General results of this first phase
are summarized as follows:
Table 1. Summary of Needs Analysis
Phase 2 – Action Plan
The information gathered through the needs analysis and the theoretical construct let the research
team plan the structure of the program. Forasmuch as one of the goals of this project was to
empower faculty and to assure quality in education, different options were either identified as
already being used at the teacher preparation program or proposed as new alternatives to grow
Workshops and seminars on methodologies, approaches and/or strategies on topics proposed by
the faculty body. E.g. Differentiated teaching and sheltered instruction
Conferences and symposia where professors or students display their finished or developing
research projects, they also talk about different issues related to methodology or classroom. E.g.
Research in Action event and Ethics Matters
Pursuing postgraduate studies. E.g. Specialization, M.A or PhD
Observation. E.g. Class observation, visiting schools or other universities
Research on different topics. E.g. Action research projects
Mentoring and coaching programs. E.g.: SIOP Coaching
Collaborative groups including tutoring on topics that are axis at the college. E.g. Support in the
use of Moodle.
Academic Readings. E.g. articles, book chapters
Academic dialog. E.g. Meetings with other professors
Team Teaching. E.g. Co-teaching and Interdisciplinary lessons
Table 2. PD modalities UNICA
Phase 3 – Professional Development Strategies/Modalities
The PD alternatives for professors at the college are explained as follows:
1. Workshops and seminars
Workshops were usually on methodologies, approaches and/or strategies on the topics suggested by
the faculty body through the questionnaire and documentation done in the needs analysis. By doing
these workshops, administrators expected to create a collaborative culture of professional growth
based on the reflection and self evaluation of current practices. Some of the workshops offered were:
2. Virtual Coaching
After the Moodle workshop, a coaching relationship was built among the facilitator and the
participants; reason why administrative staff asked teachers to require personal support when
needed and also to participate in virtual coaching if preferred due to time constraints, for example.
In order to be consistent with these new scenarios for learning, professors could participate in
three different ways in virtual coaching. First, they were familiarized with technology by attending
the workshop Making Connections. Second, the facilitator created a tutorial that included a forum
where professors could express how their process was going. Third, in order to involve the whole
community in the learning process a series of posters (see figure 1.2) containing links to tutorials
were sent to each faculty member.
Figure 1.2
3. Mentoring and Coaching Program
Novice and new teachers in the faculty received support and assistance in institutional practices
through a mentoring program. Keeping in mind the college offers a bilingual program and it has
adopted Sheltered Instruction as a model, teachers need to incorporate the principles of Sheltered
Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) and lately, Two-Way Instruction Observation Protocol
(TWIOP) into their lesson planning. In order to guarantee that every new teacher is aware of SIOP
a Coaching Program was offered.
4. Reading Academic Articles and Documents/ Academic Discussions
Once professors belong to the faculty, they belong to an academic community and are treated like
that. As a consequence, during the semester different opportunities to read academic documents
were given; for instance, during research group, faculty, and administrative staff meetings. Some
of the readings were on:
Brain and bilingualism
Brain and technology
GLAD Model
Technology and learning
One of the aspects to improve this modality of PD has to do with the fact of giving readings related
to workshop topics.
5. Research
The Ministry of Education in Chapter I, Art.3 Decree 272, 1998 stated that all academic programs
in the area of Education should prepare professionals able to understand and solve educational
problems towards human development through the development of research competences as
literal (f) explains:
f) Desarrollar y mantener una actitud de indagación que, enriquecida con teorías y
modelos investigativos, permita la reflexión disciplinada de la práctica educativa y
el avance del conocimiento pedagógico y didáctico
Keeping in mind that the methodology of Action Research had been adopted by the college for
both graduate and undergraduate programs, and also that this methodology analyzes, most of
the times, situations in the class environment giving the characteristic of a pedagogical process
within the rigor of systematic data collection analysis and interpretation, the research groups were
restructured and research projects were developed along within a one-year time frame.
This PD strategy permitted not only full-time educators but part-time and students to generate their
own projects, lead practices and disseminate with the community. Another important achievement
in terms of PD has to do with the fact that researchers produced knowledge.
6. Conferences and Seminars
ÚNICA sponsors professors who want to disseminate practices from the college in diverse events.
In this sense there are multiple options to participate in local, national, or even international
events. For instance, as part of PD opportunities for professors, and mainly to motivate students
to get involved in research the Research in Action event was proposed.
Research in Action “has as a main goal to disseminate the research projects in progress or
finished by our undergraduate students at UNICA. The projects address issues related to bilingual
education, teacher preparation and language learning innovations. Besides Research sessions,
participants attend additional activities like The Research Tips Fair and the Research Forum which
gather students and teachers together to talk about research.”
7. Study Groups
Stanley (2011) examined existing literature on professional development within teacher
communities to analyze the factors that contribute to their success or failure and distill
recommendations to focus in particular on the needs of teachers. One of the options is to engage
in collaborative teacher study groups.
8. Team Teaching
Co-planning was implemented during 2012-I. However, at present time it is not possible to
provide results of this practice due to time constraints. It is expected to conduct an evaluation and
documentation of this practice next semester as it happens with the study groups.
9. Observation
ÚNICA had previously adapted SIOP protocol observation format to its current needs. Preobservation conferences and after observation conferences were done.
In conclusion, the PD structure offered may be defined as varied, inviting, structured and goaloriented. First, there were different options to participate, second, it considered everyone in the
academic field, and third, each option was well organized and documented; finally, it served the
accreditation processes the college might eventually carry out
Phase 4 – Creation of an Academic Community
Thanks to the execution of this project, faculty was empowered in different ways, first of all,
networking around areas of research interest were fostered. Additionally, faculty members able to
offer PD opportunities nationally, and even internationally, were identified. In fact, the number of
professors offering PD opportunities increased significantly.
Phase 5- Evaluation of PD process
In order to carry out an evaluation of the different activities proposed in here, qualitative and
quantitative data was collected. A questionnaire to the faculty, an interview to full-time teachers
and part-time teachers who delivered any PD component and an evaluation format for workshops
were implemented.
Based on this general evaluation of the model the following are some recommendations to
continue this curricular implementation:
1. Video record PD sessions like workshops, seminars, conferences and use them for the Video
Project proposed by the dean/academic director.
2. Do a follow-up to each one of the structures of PD.
3. Carry out preparation stages for each one of the options. For example, before attending
workshops, it is advisory to hand in readings on the different issues.
4. Make sure people involved in PD understand the objective of each option. It avoids frustration
when facing some topics which are not new for some faculty.
5. Document each PD outcome.
6. Include in the Proyecto Educativo Institucional(PEI)all the aspects related to the Professional
Development Program
In conclusion, faculty may be empowered by offering a well structured and designed Professional
Development Program that goes beyond offering knowledge to creating a culture of constructing
and sharing knowledge.
Diaz-Maggioli, G. (2003). Professional Development for Language Teachers.
ERIC Digest. Edo-fl-03-03. August 2003
Freeman, D. & Richards, J. (1996).Teacher Learning in Language Teaching.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garmston, R. & Wellman, B. (1998).Teacher talk that makes a difference.
Educational Leadership, p. 31.
Graves, K. (1996). Teachers as Course Developers. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Kreisberg, S. (1992).Transforming power: Domination, empowerment and
education. New York: StateUniversity of New York Press.
MEN.(2010) Políticas y sistema colombiano de formación y desarrollo
profesional docente.
Pollard, A. (1997). Reflective teaching in primary education. London: Cassell.
Rodriguez-Bonces, M. and Granados, Carlo (2012) Creating a Culture of
Faculty Empowerment through Professional Development. (Article in revision)
Richards, J.C. (1998). Beyond Training. Perspective in Language Teacher
Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Short, P. M. (1994). ‘Defining teacher empowerment’. Education. 114 (4),
Smith, J. M., & Lotven, B. A. (1993). Teacher empowerment in a rural setting:
Fact versus fantasy. Education. 93 (113), 457–464
Stanley, A. (2011). Professional Development within Collaborative Teacher
Study Groups: Pitfalls and Promises. Arts Education Policy Review. 2011, Vol.
112 Issue 2, p. 71-78.
Wallace, M. (1991).Training Foreign Language Teachers. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Wong, K. & Nicotera, A. (2003).Enhancing Teacher Quality: Peer Coaching as
a Professional Development Strategy. A Preliminary Synthesis of the Literature.
Vanderbilt University Publication Series No. 5
Daniel Valderrama
[email protected]
Maira Rodriguez
[email protected]
Cell Phones off? A Thing of the
The use of information and communication technologies (ICT’s) has been advocated as an effective
mechanism to foster students’ success in their language learning experience. ICT’s not only arouse
students’ interest in using the language but they also provide dynamic spaces for meaningful
communication to take place (Bawden, 2001). Having this in mind, Colombian EFL classrooms are
constantly calling for creative alternatives to optimize the inclusion of technology in the language
classroom in ways that cater to our diverse population of learners. Currently, EFL teachers have a
growing repertoire of internet-based activities. Computers seem to be taking over the pedagogical
scene but, what about cell phones? Aren’t they meant to be used for communication?
This demonstration shows an initiative to enhance the use of cell phones in the communicative
language classroom. Making the case that cell phones should be used in L2 as naturally and
purposefully as in L1 (Chinnery, 2006), and based on the principles of task-based learning,
five core activities will be socialized. These activities include text messaging, voice recording,
taking pictures and, of course, making phone calls. Presenters will walk the audience through
the possible ways to implement these activities and make suggestions on how to adapt them to
different teaching contexts. Attendees will be encouraged to keep their cell phones on. Body of the Presentation
The language classroom has a striking beauty not only because it is a melting pot of cultures,
world-views, identities, and experiences, but also because it is flexible to welcome innovations
in terms of technologies, activities, and approaches. In the digital era, emerging information and
communication technologies (ICT’s) have permeated the learning experience enabling new forms
of interaction and participation (Kern, 2006). Currently, EFL teachers have a growing repertoire of
internet-based activities. Computers seem to be taking over the pedagogical scene but, what about
cell phones? Aren’t they meant to be used for communication, too? The present description is an
initiative to enhance the use of cell phones in the communicative language classroom. First, we
present three guiding principles that, we believe, ought to be observed when incorporating cell
phones or any other innovative device into our classes. Next, we introduce five sample activities
that provide the reader with ideas on how to make the most of cell phones with students. Finally,
we share some considerations based on our own experiences, successes, and... not so good times.
Rather than simply show a list of activities that can be replicated in any class, our objective is
to equip teachers with some necessary tools, both conceptual and practical, so as to design
and implement more innovations effectively. With this purpose in mind, we want to present the
following principles that orient and underpin the use of cell phones and any other ICT.
Principle 1: Tools come and go; the desire for communication stays.
Cell phones should not be used for the sake of variety. Many times, it seems like the purpose of
an activity is to simply use a particular tool rather than to really “communicate” with others. When
using cell phones, it is of paramount importance that we set a clear communicative purpose.
The rationale behind the inclusion of ICT’s is that they not only arouse students’ interest in using
the language but they also provide dynamic spaces for meaningful communication to take place
(Bawden, 2001). Therefore, the message students will exchange should seek to be as relevant and
motivating as the fact of using their mobiles.
Principle 2: Authentic tools should not serve unauthentic purposes.
The type of activities that students engage in through the use of cell phones ought to constitute
daily-life-like encounters. Asking students to sit down next to each other, take out their cell
phone, put it against their ear and pretend they are having a phone conversation is not a sign of
authenticity. Asking students to call a partner to practice a conversation from the book signals a
waste in the potential of such tool. Cell phones should be used in L2 as naturally and purposefully
as in L1 (Chinnery, 2006). Therefore, as teachers, we need to ensure that students not only have
something to say (a message) but they also have a genuine reason to give/take such message. In
the previous principle, we suggested setting a clear communicative purpose (or outcome), now
we are suggesting that such purpose be authentic. In the sample activities below, we provide
some examples of communicative purposes. For further reading on communicative outcomes
within task-based learning visit:
Principle 3: Success does not depend on the tool but on effective planning.
Another risk in incorporating cell phones in our classes is that we may hold very high expectations
on the tool as such and we may disregard the importance of careful planning. There are several
aspects that need consideration and preparation before simply having students use their cell
phones in class. To name but a few, we need to think of the overall lesson objectives and how cell
phones fit in the big picture in terms of topic and target language (grammar, vocabulary, etc.). We
need to know the kind of cell phones our students have and whether they will need airtime. We
need to think of the language students will need and the instructions we will give. In short, the tool
in itself does not make the magic happen.
Having discussed some key principles for the use of cell phones in our classes, let us take a look
at five sample activities. It should be stated that this is not a finished inventory of what we can do
with cell phones; rather it seeks to be a jumping-off point for teachers to put their creativity at work.
Activity 1: Calling a classmate
It is necessary to start by getting our students familiar with telephone language. That is, with the
appropriate expressions to start a conversation, to ask about someone, and to deal with common
problems on the phone (e.g. I can’t hear you or we got a bad connection, among others). You
can get a printable list of these expressions on the Internet or you can use a video from Youtube.
com (see references at the end). Now, there are several reasons why people call their friends:
from asking for a favor to simply catching up. The latter will be the reason to call in this activity,
especially when your lesson is about recent past activities or things you are doing these days
(the present continuous). You can ask students to make a short list of things they have done
recently and to include something good that has happened to them recently. Then students will
exchange phone numbers and decide who will call and who will receive the call (make sure that
everyone has a partner). Those who will call should step out of the classroom and make the call.
The purpose of this activity is to find out about something good that has happened to their peers
recently. (Students need to have credit in their cell phones for this activity)
Activity 2: Calling to find out about a service
There are several places in town with bilingual staff, especially those related to the tourism industry
such as hotels and car rentals. You can shortlist some phone numbers and ask students to plan
what questions they may ask and be asked. Then students can call and get as much information as
possible with the purpose of choosing the option that offers the best deal. (Students need to have
credit in their cell phones for this activity)
Activity 3: Making an invitation through a text-message
When talking about plans for the weekend, you can ask students to think up a good plan and get
ready to invite a classmate. Ask students to get the phone number of three classmates and send
them a message inviting them to do something on the weekend. Each student will receive three
invitations, so the purpose of the activity is to choose the most interesting invitation. Make sure
students reply to their partners whether accepting or declining the invitation. (Students need to
have credit in their cell phones for this activity)
Activity 4: Recording a story
In advance, ask students to bring a short story that teaches a moral. After having rehearsed
pronunciation and intonation patterns, students are to record in their cell phones as they read
the story aloud. Then, ask students to swap their cell phones with a partner and listen to it. The
purpose of this activity is for students to infer the moral. Finally, students get together and discuss
their interpretation of the story. (The voice recorder feature is necessary for this activity)
Activity 5: Making a digital photo album
When talking about the family, the home, or the neighborhood, you can ask students to take
pictures of their favorite people, places, or objects (depending on the topic) for homework. The
following class, students have to think of reasons for their choices and how to describe each
item. Then students get in pairs or small groups and show each other their photos as they ask and
answer questions about each picture. The purpose of this activity is to get to know their classmates
better. To wrap up the work, you can ask students to write one interesting thing they learned about
their partners.
We strongly encourage teachers to come up with variations of the activities above and to design
their own. Likewise, we hope the following considerations come in handy as much as they sound
like common sense:
• When distributing phone numbers, make sure that every student will receive a phone call.
Sometimes you will have to participate as one of the callers.
• Announce in advance when students need to get credit or air time so that they can actually
make the call. Be ready to lend your cell phone to one of the students. Show a sensitive
attitude so as to avoid making people feel uncomfortable. Keep in mind that some students
are not willing to share their cell phone numbers with others as a way to keep their privacy.
• Other students might feel embarrassed of their cell phones or may not have one, so restrain
peers from making negative comments about this.
• As with any other tool, use it but do not abuse it. If you use cell phones very often, it will
become predictable and students will lose interest.
• Let your students share ideas with you about what kind of activities could be done with cell
phones. They will surprise you.
• Finally, remember to enjoy every minute of each activity; there is no better motivation-trigger
than teacher’s enthusiasm.
Bawden, D. (2001). Information and Digital Literacies: a review of concepts.
Journal of Documentation, 57, 218-259.
Chinnery, G. 2006.Going to the MALL: Mobile assisted language learning.
Language Learning and Technology. 10 (1): 9–16.
Kern, R. (2006). Perspectives on Technology in Learning and teaching
languages. TESOL Quarterly, 40, 1, 183-210.
For more information on telephone expressions visit:
Astrid Wilches
[email protected]
You Tube: How to Effectively
Use Internet Videos in the EFL
In a digital world where people live and work with technology, it seems reasonable to adapt new
media and Internet to education. One popular resource teachers in Colombia are interested in
is digital and online videos for English learning, which offer varied possibilities to enhance this
process. EFL teachers are aware of the different possibilities Internet videos offer and they are
willing and motivated to try this tool out to teach English. However, with the amount of options
available and the lack of training in this area, some of them might feel overwhelmed and not
confident about where to start or how to conduct a class using videos activities. This presentation
is intended to offer teachers a general guidance on finding, adapting and using Internet videos
more effectively for the English language classroom.
At first, the idea of watching a video seems a good alternative for teachers to change the routine of
the class. But after spending a great deal of time and energy trying to find the most suitable video,
it turns out to be difficult to understand, students lose interest, get frustrated, then the video is
over, some comprehension questions are handed out and the activity is over. Then, teachers might
wonder what went wrong if using Internet in class is supposed to be good. In some cases, the
experience is not very successful. Either because the video is part of the textbook and is taken as
another class activity, or because it is an Internet video that is not used appropriately. This failure
may be due to the lack of appropriate motivation, scaffolding and strategies to use an Internet
video in class. This presentation aims to guide teachers through the process of learning how and
where to find appropriate videos, how to adapt them to their contexts and how to use them more
effectively in the language classroom.
Video viewing is beneficial for English learning in terms of language and culture but it also has
some pedagogical implications. In regards to the first two, Internet videos can provide rich input
environments (Tschirner, 2001) in which students can get in contact with authentic visual and
auditory material. A rich and varied authentic oral input is known to be an essential “prerequisite
for achieving oral competence” (Tschirner, 2001). Thanks to this feature, students can see how
real English is used in specific contexts, learn from the culture that uses that language and learn
from the world in a vicarious way (Laurillard, 1995).
This vicarious learning is another benefit provided by video viewing. Students learn by observing
the behavior of others in different places and cultures. Videos bring the world into the classroom,
take people to places, inform them about an issue or illustrate processes that could not be
otherwise seen (Snelson & Perkins, 2009). Videos present situations and contexts that cannot
be described easily in class and enable students to acquire understanding of cultural issues that
perhaps are not made explicit but that are part of the language use.
But to effectively use this tool in class, it is necessary to integrate video viewing activities into the
dynamics of the class. It requires careful planning and organization to use the video as a part of the
class and not as a supplement or a prize. Internet videos can be used as a bridge to start exploring
other online tools that can be interlinked with other online sites or as a part of a virtual learning
environment (Karppinen, 2005). This implies reorganization of class dynamics (use of scaffolding
and strategies) and language approach since online tools empower students and promote more
active learning. These tools help students access information, interpret, organize and represent
knowledge (Jonassen, 2000, cited in Karppinen, 2005) in a different fashion from regular lessons
or exercises.
This process of integrating and using video activities in class requires careful design and planning
to use it for meaningful learning. It is crucial to prepare sequential activities that “connect visual
systems to verbal ones” (Swaffar&Vlatten, 1997) to aid understanding. This presentation’s
sequence is divided in three general sections of finding, adapting and using Internet videos more
effectively in the language classroom.
To use Internet videos in class more successfully it is essential to know how and where to find
appropriate videos in a more efficient way. Learning the essentials of web searching through
engines and web pages is the first step. Getting the resources to deal with hassles such as lack
of Internet connection, time or training, is the next step. Then, it is crucial to find a purpose
for watching a video. This needs to be adapted to the specific context of the class and it aims
at reaching a communicative goal. When the purpose and objectives are set, scaffolding the
activities facilitates the use and understanding of the video. This scaffolding means that every
activity must be logically connected and the assessment and guidance has to be present from
beginning to end, preparing the students before, during and after watching a video. A good idea to
finish this process is to encourage students to create their own video following the model given.
This is a clear, measurable, meaningful outcome that can consolidate their language learning
Laurillard, D (1995) Multimedia and the changing experience of the learner.
British Journal of Educational Technology. 26 (3) 179-189.
Karppinen, P. (2005) Meaningful learning with digital videos and online
videos: Theoretical perspectives. AACE Journal, 13 (3) 233-250.
Perkins, R. & Snelson, C. (2010) From Silent Films to YouTube TM: Tracing
the Historical roots of motion pictures technologies in education. Journal of
Visual Literacy 28 (1)
Swaffar, J. & Vlatten, A. (1997) A sequential model for video viewing in the
foreign language curriculum. The Modern Language Journal, 81, ii, 1997.
Tschirner, E. (2001) Language acquisition in the classroom: The role of digital
video, Computer-assisted Language Learning, 14:3-4, 305-319.
Yamith José Fandiño Parra
La Salle University, School of Education Sciences
[email protected]; [email protected]
21st Century Skills for the EFL
Today, EFL teachers need to use new approaches that develop content, culture, technology, and
lifelong skills. In this regard, the Partnership for 21stCenturySkills (2007) argued for the explicit
integration of learning and innovation skills, information, media and digital literacy skills and
life and career skills. To them, classrooms should provide students with practices focused on
acquiring and developing, among other things, critical thinking, collaboration, self-direction
and cross-cultural skills. Consequently, EFL classrooms need to be filled with meaningful and
intellectually stimulating activities that allow students to understand complex perspectives, use
multiple media and technologies, and work creatively with others.
Today’s English foreign language (EFL) learners have varied backgrounds, a multiplicity of
achievement levels, and diverse learning styles. These characteristics impact their ability to learn
and use a foreign language (Ananiadou & Claro, 2009). At the same time, these learners are not
simply interested in achieving a high command of the different language skills needed in social
situations. They are also concerned with the acquisition of the formal academic skills demanded in
university . On the other hand, our world is increasingly globalized and digitized, which, according
to Varis (2007), has consequences and demands in people’s educational and working life. In this
regard, Lotherington and Jenson (2011) stated globalization and digitization have reshaped the
communication landscape, affecting how and with whom we communicate, and deeply altering
the terrain of language and literacy education. Consequently, the EFL classroom needs to move
away from traditional methods focused on language mastering in order to start incorporating new
approaches aimed at exploring and developing content, culture, technology, and lifelong skills.
It goes without saying that today’s EFL classroom should be different from that of the mid-tolate twentieth century. Shoffner, De Oliveira and Angus (2010) maintained that today’s English
classroom requires an extended understanding and enactment of literacy. Rather than an allinclusive single literacy, English teachers must accept the changing and flexible nature of
literacies that address areas as diverse as technology, multimedia, relationships and culture.
These areas, in turn, require the English classroom to be a space capable of addressing the
increasing multiplicity and integration of different modes of meaning-making, where the textual
relates to the visual, the audio, the spatial, and the behavioral. One possible way to answer to the
new interests and demands of our learners and our society is the explicit work with what experts
have called the 21st century skills.
21st Century Skills
According to Ledward and Hirata (2011), the 21st century skills are a blend of content knowledge,
specific skills, expertise, and literacies necessary to succeed in work and life. These skills,
clarified Ledward and Hirata, are more than technological literacy and include proficiency in
critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and teamwork. Ultimately, these skills help
people thrive the new economy since they help people: a) access, synthesize, and communicate
information; b) work collaboratively across differences to solve complex problems; and c) create
new knowledge through the innovative use of multiple technologies.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) (2007b) maintained that while today’s schools show
the influence of industrial and information age models, the 21stcentury modern school must bring
together rigorous content and real-world relevance, by focusing on cognitive skills as well as
those in affective and aesthetic domains. To help schools achieve such challenging goals, the P21
(2007a) created a framework for 21st century learning, which consists of core subjects (English,
Reading, Language Arts, World Languages, Arts, Mathematics, Economics, Science, Geography,
History, and Government and Civics) and interdisciplinary themes (global awareness, financial,
economic, business, entrepreneurial literacy, civil literacy, health literacy, and environmental
literacy). These subjects and themes center on three core skills: life and career skills, learning
and innovation skills, and information, media, and technology skills. See figure below.
Figure 1.21st Century Skills
Framework. This figure
illustrates the main components
of the 21st century framework
proposed by P21.
Each of the three core skills addresses particular areas people need to acquire and develop. Life
and career, for instance, describe the ability to be flexible, adaptable, self-directed, socially aware,
accountable and responsible. For its part, learning and innovation include the ability to be creative
and innovative, critical, problem-solving, communicative and collaborative. Finally, information,
media and technology consists of the ability to access and use information, to create and analyze
media products, and to apply technology effectively (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). Once studied and
incorporated into curriculum, instruction, and assessment, these skills can help schools and
teachers integrate learning goals in traditional subject knowledge areas, interdisciplinary and
contemporary thematic expertise, and essential skills needed in the 21st century. See table below.
Table 1.21st century skills
In order to structure the analysis of 21st century skills, several conceptual models have been
created. In 2010, the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) created a model
that defines ten universally accepted 21st century skills into 4 broad categories of competencies,
as follows:
Table 2. Overall conceptual 21st century skills model
Undoubtedly, the 21st century has brought about changes in the way people learn, communicate,
and live. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Assessment and Teaching of 21st
Century Skills are examples of how certain organizations and research projects are trying to reach
common models, standards, and terminologies in 21st century skills around the world. But, how
has the 21st century impacted the EFL classroom? Is the discourse about 21st century skills
being considered and implemented in English foreign language teaching? Are ideas such as
technological expertise, global awareness, and life and career skills being discussed and studied
in the EFL classroom? See section below.
The EFL classroom in the 21 century
Rogers (2000) stated that the 20th century saw an immense amount of activity in language teaching
methods and approaches. One of the most well-known methods was and still is Communicative
Language Teaching (CLT). With its emphasis on communicative competence, learner-centeredness
Kumaravadivelu talked about 5 macrostrategies. Among those, different authors have emphasized
three: Maximize learning opportunities, integrate language skills and ensure social relevance.
and interaction, not only has CLT influenced syllabus design and methodology, but also, it has
paved the way for new methodologies such as content-based instruction (CBI), task-based
instruction (TBI) and content and language integrated learning (CLIL) (Richards, 2006). However,
some authors believed methods are expert-constructed prescriptions for practice that have both
pedagogic limitations and insidious sociocultural and political agendas (Allright& Bailey, 1991;
Stern, 1992). Kumaravadivelu (1994) identified what he called the ‘postmethod condition’, where
teachers must be capable of adapting their approach in accordance with local, contextual factors,
while at the same time being guided by a number of macrostrategies . These macrostrategies,
explained Kumaravadivelu, are broad guidelines that teachers use to generate their own situationspecific classroom techniques and, ultimately, to construct their own theory of practice.
Nowadays, English cannot be treated as a simple linguistic code or, even, as a set of competences.
Instead, English should be regarded as a global language that people can use to express their local
identities and to communicate intelligibly with the world (Crystal, 2006). As a consequence of
this new perspective, Eaton (2010) stated that today’s EFL classroom is no longer focused on
grammar, memorization and learning from rote. Rather, it is conceived of as a space to learn to
use language and cultural knowledge as a means to connect to others around the globe. As a
result, argued Eaton, there is a case for a reconceptualized field that is more learner-centered,
more collaborative and more technologically driven. As part of that reconceptualization of the EFL
classroom, teachers can resort to 21st century skills. But, how can these skills be incorporated
into the EFL classroom? See the discussion below.
21st Century Skills in the EFL classroom
Chang and Tung (2009) contended that EFL students should not be asked to work alone on
assignments emphasizing short-term content memorization, nor should they do assignments
which focus on translation or allow sloppily put-together pieces of model phrases and sentences
from the textbook. Instead, they suggested using project-based learning (PBL) to help students
analyze the problems, investigate possible solutions, make decisions, create designs, and solve
problems. On the one hand, PBL encourages students to work relatively autonomously over
extended periods of time and come up with realistic products or presentations in the end. On the
other hand, instructors are facilitators, who do not directly provide students with correct answers
but guide them in the learning process and offer them feedback. PBL seems, maintained Chang
and Tung, to be a valid alternative for incorporating 21st century skills into the teaching of English.
For her part, Black (2009) stated that rapid English language learners need activities based on
new technological tools and semiotic forms that can offer them opportunities for the development
of both standard language proficiency and digital literacy and 21st skills. She believed multimodal
practices such as instant messaging, social networks, digital storytelling and media redesigning
should be used to teach and learn English so that students can engage in creative manipulation
of popular cultural and textual artifacts. By doing so, she argued, students cannot only represent
themselves, but also communicate in online spaces by mixing text, image and sound.
In my opinion, in order to infuse the EFL classroom with 21st century skills, teachers and
students can work with both or either Multiliteracy and Multimodal Communicative Competence.
According to Dupuy (2011), multiliteracy expands the traditional language-based notion of
literacy – the ability to read and write– to include not only the ability to produce and interpret
texts, but also a critical awareness of the relationships between texts, discourse conventions,
and social and cultural contexts. Such ability, asserted Dupuy, prepares learners to participate
in diverse discourse communities and fosters the critical engagement they need to design their
social futures. In this regard, Elsner (2001) maintained that language learners today need to be
able to cope with different kinds of texts, including interactive, linear and nonlinear texts, texts
with several possible meanings, texts being delivered on paper, screens, or live, and texts that
comprise one or more semiotic systems. However, Haut (2010) pointed out that EFL teachers
should not only incorporate different types of texts, modes of language and discourses. They
should also give explicit instruction detailing the inherent conventions so that students can learn
to move between discourses and become both aware and critical of the intrinsic features that are
On the other hand, Royce (2007) states that, given the changes in communication modes and
conventions in recent years, EFL classrooms need to be increasingly concerned with developing
students’ multimodal communicative competence. To him, teachers should begin to focus on
and develop students’ abilities in visual literacy, and to develop a pedagogical metalanguage
to facilitate these abilities when images co-occur with spoken and written modes. In this line of
thought, Heberle (2010) defines multimodal communicative competence as the knowledge and
use of language concerning the visual, gestural, audio and spatial dimensions of communication,
including computer-mediated-communication. To her, the familiarization of EFL learners with
different kinds of multimodal texts and semiotic meanings can help them be better prepared for
different literacy practices in their professional and sociocultural experiences with native and
non-native speakers of English. Concretely, she suggested using task-based or content-based
instruction with interpretive analysis and discussions of images in order to make EFL learners
approach images as sociocultural constructions and, ultimately, to expand their skills in learning
The 21st century demands the explicit integration of learning and innovation skills, information,
media and digital literacy skills and life and career skills. Consequently, schools in general and
EFL classrooms in particular should provide students with practices and processes focused
on acquiring and developing, among other things, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration,
media literacy, initiative and self-direction, and social and cross-cultural skills. Ultimately, EFL
classrooms need to be filled with meaningful and intellectually stimulating activities, practices,
and processes that allow students not just to articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral,
written and nonverbal communication, but to understand complex perspectives, use multiple
media and technologies, make judgments and decisions and work creatively with others.
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Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries. OECD Education Working
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Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (2010). Draft White Paper 1.
Defining 21st century skills. Melborune: Author.
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business English instruction. Feng Chia Journal of Humanities and Social
Sciences, (19), 255-286.
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history of the English Language, 420-439. Cambridge: Cambridge University
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the Distinction. In Street, B. & Hornberger, N. H. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of
Language and Education (2nd Edition), Volume 2: Literacy (pp. 71-83). New
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Century. Calgary: Onate Press.
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critical thinking in the primary language classroom with multilingual virtual
talkingbooks. Encuentro, 20, 27-38.
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arts. Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada.
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Letras, (27), 101-116.
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for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 28(1), 27–48.
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Literacy in L2Settings: New Literacies, New Basics, New Pedagogies. Annual
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learning. Washington, DC: Author.
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century: Report and recommendations of the Arizona summit on 21st century
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Luis Osorio, Natalia Salazar
Centro Colombo Americano – Medellín
[email protected], [email protected]
Fostering Autonomy Among 5
to 10 Year Old Kids in the EFL
The new tendencies in the teaching of foreign languages require students to be very active
participants in their learning process. The classroom environment in which students are exposed
to the language needs to be encouraging and has to make students feel more motivated to be
increasingly more competent and self-determined in order to assume more responsibility. Through
correct instruction, students can become semi-autonomous learners and start the process of
learning how to learn. When students are able to apply different strategies to other experiences and
other environments, they become autonomous learners, thus making learning a more meaningful
experience and changing the teacher’s role from expert to advisor.
Fostering autonomy among 5 to 10 year old kids in the EFL classroom
Autonomous learning is a process that students carry out on their own without any external
influence by teachers, tutors or mentors. On the whole, when we think about autonomous students,
we think about adults, but what about children? Children are usually viewed as people who need
to be guided or instructed by others (e.g. teachers, parents, etc.). However, through our daily
practices we have noticed that children can be autonomous or semi-autonomous learners too, if
they are given the appropriate input.
It is important to know that autonomous learning is in no way a teacher less process. In an
autonomous classroom, both teacher and students have very clear and important roles. But before
discussing those roles, let us understand what Venson&Voller (1997) defined as autonomy:
a. The ability to take charge of one’s learning
b. Situations in which learners study entirely on their own
c. Set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning
d. Inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education
e. Exercise of learners’ responsibility for their own learning
f. Right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning
In the field of language education, different authors explain autonomy by means of innumerable
synonyms too: independence, language awareness, self-direction, and andragogy, among others.
Likewise, autonomy can be understood as the learners’ motivation towards and capacity to control
their own learning and as a practical process that involves actively searching for meaning from
events. In this process, the teachers’ role is a shift from suppliers of information or experts,
to counselors and managers of the learning resources. The autonomy-promoting teacher lets
students discuss ideas and share information to get agreements and thus, solve problems.
The autonomous learner
The autonomous learner is a self-activated maker of meaning; he is the one in charge of taking
a proactive role in the learning process. Autonomous learners choose objectives (aims) and
purposes. Here are some characteristics of the autonomous learner:
Autonomous learners:
a. have understanding of their learning styles and strategies
b. take an active approach to the learning task at hand
c. are enthusiastic to take risks to communicate in the target language by all means
d. are good at making predictions
e. pay attention to both form and content
f. have an open-minded and outgoing approach to the target language
Conditions for learner autonomy
There are certain conditions that are necessary for students to become autonomous learners. It
is necessary to have a set of strategies both cognitive and metacognitive, as well as motivation,
attitudes and knowledge about language learning.
• Learning strategies: special thoughts or behavior students use to help them comprehend,
learn, or retain new information.
• Cognitive strategies: how to manage the incoming information to handle it and enrich learning.
Students may use any of the following:
a) Repetition
b) Resourcing
c) Translation
d) Note-taking
e) Deduction
f) Contextualization
g) Transfer
h) Inferring
i) Questioning for clarification
• Metacognitive strategies: Skills used for planning monitoring, and evaluating the learning
a) directed attention, when deciding in advance to concentrate on general aspects of a task;
b) selective attention, paying attention to specific aspects of a task;
c) self-monitoring, i.e., checking one’s performance as one speaks;
d) self-evaluation, i.e., appraising one’s performance in relation to one’s own standards;
e) self-reinforcement, rewarding oneself for success.
Promoting autonomy
Teachers can promote and help students become autonomous through different strategies. For
example, teachers can suggest students to make a presentation based on a topic previously
worked in class and let students decide on how they want to present their work. In other situations
teachers can create a “standard performance” check list and let students assess their work based
on the list; in this way, students are able to see how they are doing and can decide if they need
to make some changes to better their performance in future tasks. In some other cases, teachers
can assign a task to be done and let students report while performing. Then teachers can focus
their attention on the arising difficulties related to literacy development and any other language
skill (reading, listening, writing and speaking). However, there are some drawbacks on the use
of self-reports. For example, through this approach students might feel they are constantly being
evaluated on their performance, and therefore, they may go back to old beliefs and behavioral
self-consciousness and never be fully autonomous.
By promoting students’ autonomy in the classroom teachers promote a change in roles.
Traditionally, we have had teacher-centered classes in which the student is a passive agent and the
teacher is the source of knowledge. Through this approach, the classroom environment changes
as students move from a subordinated to an active role and teachers move from a dictatorial to
an advising role.
Teachers’ practice evidence of autonomy
Through our daily practices we have seen how our students have been moving in the different
stages towards becoming more autonomous. Sometimes such change from dependable pupils to
self-directed learners goes so smoothly that neither students nor teachers can be really aware of
when or how such changes took place.
By means of implementing student-centered tasks, we have helped students reach a level of selfawareness that can be fostered and implemented in any other classes under the guidance of any
other teacher. Certain strategies used in our classes have helped us become more conscious of
our learners’ needs, weaknesses and strengths. Those strategies come in the form of teacher and
learner strategies that we have implemented in our daily practices. Such strategies can be seen
as the means by which we tackled a specific task. That is to say, depending on the kind of task,
we can make decisions on how to deal with the attitudes adopted by students. It does not mean
that we direct our students’ behavior towards in-class procedures; on the contrary, by knowing
what the expected and actual reactions are, we can help our students by providing them with some
ideas on how to develop the appropriate learning strategies.
To sum up, fostering autonomy in the EFL classroom is a process that requires both, teachers
and students’ active participation; the former as an advisor, the latter as an active self-aware
participant. Even though roles change, there has to be a teacher who can adapt the available
resources, materials, and methods to students’ needs and interests. Changing such paradigms
as the role of the teacher and the learner in the classroom takes time and planning. Learners’
autonomy consists of being conscious of, and identifying one’s strategies and goals and having
the opportunity to analyze, consider and understand approaches and procedures for meaningful
and optimal learning.
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41, 1991, pp. 125-149
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Learning. London: Longman
Claudia Marcela Arciniegas
Universidad Externado de Colombia
An evaluation of the advantages,
disadvantages, and challenges
of three approaches to feedback
on writing and an integrative
feedback model
Feedback on learners’ performance: a valuable resource to evaluate and further students’ linguistic
and skills development Controversy about adequate approaches to feedback on writing in recent
decades: some question that teacher feedback aids learning, whereas others advocate other forms
of feedback on writing.
I first intend to point out the most salient advantages, disadvantages and challenges of three
approaches to feedback on writing: self-correction, teacher feedback and peer feedback. Then, I
will propose a flexible model that aims at integrating the three approaches so both teachers and
learners can derive benefits from using more than a single one.
Self-correction: students by themselves, reread and rewrite their own texts to improve their quality.
Several advantages:
--It gives learners the chance to read and write their own writing again, which can result in
improvement of their written work and give them a sense of being active language users.
--It fosters the development of skills related to self-editing, considered vital to achieve proficiency
in writing; they become more capable of identifying and correcting errors involving word choice
and sentence structure.
--Through it, learners rely on themselves as writers, thus fostering autonomous learning.
Some disadvantages:
--Those students who did not receive any kind of teacher feedback significantly underperformed
those who did possibly because they simply did not find many errors in their writing.
--It is harder for learners to reach desired accuracy levels through self-correction only, which
could lead to feelings of frustration, thus hindering their writing skills development and leading
to fossilization.
--Total reliance on learners to correct their errors.
Teacher feedback
Teacher feedback involves a variety of ways in which teachers evaluate their students’ writing and
provide them with suggestions for improvement. It can range from less explicit feedback such as
underlining to more explicit and informative feedback such as labeling with codes.
Some advantages:
--Learners believe teacher feedback is helpful and they want it; it can contribute to increasing their
motivation and to creating an environment where learners receive support.
--It can help learners notice their errors and correct them.
--It is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to attend to students’ needs individually to prevent
fossilization and aid the development of their linguistic competence. This may be so because
when learners edit their own texts based on received feedback, they need to think about and
analyze the comments made by their teachers to improve them.
Some disadvantages:
--Avoidance: learners do not use structures previously corrected and/or make their writing
simpler and shorter, possibly leading to a reduction in the number of errors, but perhaps not to
an improvement in their writing skills or linguistic; they may assume that the less they write, the
less they will be corrected.
--The confusion it can cause among students: students’ misunderstanding of teachers’ notes on
their writing as a result of indirectness and/or a lack of clarity or specificity.
-- Teachers’ comments may unwillingly appropriate or steal the text from writers; at times,
teachers fail to grasp learners’ intended meaning in their texts, and instruct them to make changes
or corrections that partially or completely modify their content without considering what students
really meant to communicate.
-- Criticisms and suggestions toned down by praise are not understood by students as such due
to the more complex linguistic nature of subtleties in indirect language, not easily perceived by
all students.
-- Comments of praise may not be regarded by learners as being important because they are not
specific or informative.
-- An excess of negative feedback may harm not only students’ self-confidence, but also their
--Abstain from harmful practices (e.g. crossing out and appropriation).
--Encourage the development of critical thinking skills for learners to decide which of the feedback
to use and not to use and to justify their choices.
--Teachers’ relinquishing part of their authority for the sake of students’ linguistic progress.
--Offering balanced feedback that is personalized, selective, constructive, specific, clear and
--Prioritize content over surface level errors.
--Set time aside to give students opportunities to read their feedback, ask questions, and work on
the revision and editing of their texts.
Peer feedback
Peer feedback: students, working in pairs or groups, read each other’s writing to make comments
or suggestions that may help to improve the quality of their writing.
--Focus on the interaction between writers and readers: students can evaluate if writers’ intended
meaning is understood by readers, leading to negotiation of meaning.
--Since a peer is not seen as an authority, learners might feel freer to implement or discard it,
which could promote the development of critical thinking skills.
--Acting as critical readers may make them more critical of their own writing.
--It can foster language development according to the socio-cultural theory of learning; learners
may aid one another’s acquisition through peer feedback by cooperating among themselves in
processes like peer feedback.
--It is more easily understood than teacher feedback.
--Learners may not feel it is helpful because they doubt that peers with the same level of English
can offer them valid comments.
--The amount of time needed for peer feedback.
--It could be culturally-demanding for students from certain cultures in which the value of learning
from peers is not acknowledged.
--Students’ age and/or level may restrict its implementation because it may be beyond their skills.
--If students have not been properly trained to give their peers feedback, it may not be appropriate.
--Training learners to ensure that they will provide their peers with helpful positive and negative
comments, and that they will be open to receiving them as well.
--Teachers may still need to comment on peer feedback, which could affect students’ motivation
to carry it out.
--Make learners aware of both the usefulness of peer feedback and the need to understand it and
judge it before using it.
Integrative Feedback Model
Different approaches have advantages that can be brought together under a model that integrates
all of them for the maximum benefit for learners.
A flexible model: it offers several possible ways of using more than one method to provide
After writing, learners should be given the chance to self-correct their compositions because by
rereading and rewriting them, they will develop self-editing skills and autonomy. After that, either
teacher or peer feedback can be used. If peer feedback is chosen, interaction among learners
can help them to identify differences between meaning intended by the writer and meaning
understood by the reader, leading to an improvement in the clarity of their writing. Then, there are
two options. The first one is self-correction and teacher feedback: after peer feedback and before
collecting students’ written work, the teacher may decide to give learners time to make changes to
their texts based on feedback received from peers. The second one is only teacher feedback: the
teacher may decide to collect students’ writing and comments received from peers to evaluate the
appropriateness of the feedback provided by students before asking learners to make corrections.
Another alternative is for the teacher to give feedback after self-correction. The teacher’s markings,
codes and/or comments need to be as specific, clear and honest as possible for feedback to be
useful and credible to students. Teacher feedback is then followed by self-correction. At that point,
the teacher may decide to go over learners’ corrected texts or give them the chance to work in
pairs or groups to give and receive peer feedback.
Care must be taken to choose the most appropriate approaches according to the learners’ age,
needs, and level in addition to the kind of writing, time availability and task goals.
The ultimate goal: learners’ progress in their language proficiency and awareness of the various
ways in which they can obtain input to revise and improve their writing as they become more
autonomous writers increasingly capable of making sensible decisions about language and
content in their texts.
Research about different approaches to providing feedback on writing has revealed the advantages
and disadvantages each one has, along with the challenges faced by learners and teachers as they
are implemented. This debate has undoubtedly shed light on the value of each approach and on
determining factors that can condition its successful practice. Even though this controversy is
expected to go on, it is indisputable that the three approaches discussed here have a lot to offer
learners to enrich their writing skills development because they not only entail dissimilar but
complementary modes of interaction between the learners and their writing, but also give learners
different perspectives of their written work. Hence, an integration of two or more of them can add
benefits during the process of revising and editing.
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Margarita Arango Herrera
[email protected]
Earnest practices in writing
This study explored the effects of learning strategies like brainstorming, categorizing, and proofreading when writing. Research was completed within the Task-Based Learning (TBL) Framework
(Willis, 1996) and the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach - CALLA (O’Malley,
1994). Nineteen students in an intermediate level at a Binational English Center in Bogotá were
subjects for this project filling out surveys and questionnaires before and after implementing
the strategies. Data analysis results showed that students improved organization and texts were
clearer using the learning strategies applied. TBL, CALLA and Flower and Hayes’ theory bonded,
demonstrated that final products can be improved with training and tools enhancing writing skills.
Keywords: writing skills, learning strategies, Task-Based Learning, writing process, Cognitive
Academic Language Learning Approach.
Writing is one of the most advanced actions that the human brain can perform. As practice
requires more preparation to progress; on average, writing is assumed as a difficult task to
complete. Written communication aptitudes are what a large percentage of Colombian people
lack. According to the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (ICFES), written
communication is not the most solid ability students have. Statistics showed that when writing
15, 2% of the students had satisfactory results, while 17, 4% were acceptable and 67.4% were
deficient (El Tiempo, 2012). Thus, this action research wanted to illustrate learning strategies
instruction regarding the writing process under Flower and Hayes’s cognitive model theory of
writing and Task-Based Learning Framework (Willis, 1996) in the Kids and Teens Program at the
Centro Colombo Americano in Bogotá.
Area of Focus
This action research project describes how learning strategies instruction on 11 to 14 year old
students under Flower and Hayes’s cognitive model theory of writing and Task-Based Learning
framework from Willis, (1996) helps organization when writing.
Research Question
• How does learning strategy implementation help students in their writing process?
• What learning strategies may teachers implement during the writing process?
Theoretical Framework
Any piece of writing needs a minimum of dedication from the author no matter the topic. The main
purpose of this project is to identify appropriate strategies to solve the problem of expressing their
ideas on a paper. This study includes the most important aspects of Flower and Hayes’ cognitive
model of writing (in Hyland, 2009), revealing the connection between task and writer’s context in
the process of writing. Plus, goal achievement through mechanical construction of that process
addressing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Handbook (O’Malley, 1994).
When writing we join both brain sides bringing logic and originality into paper. As defined by
Tichy (1966), writing is the process of expressing ideas in a due manner. Hence, writing is a
bipartite activity which embraces systematic recognition of symbols, grammar, and construction
of concepts throughout experiences and prior knowledge, if it is successful or not depends on
what was previously decided (Hancock, 2009). According to Rohman (in Hyland, 2009), good
writing is the combination of words that allows a writer the integrity to dominate the subject.
Writing Process
According to Flower and Hayes in 1981 (in Hyland, 2009), writing is a cognitive process which
model embodies key aspects as an established setting and writer’s memory. This conveys
preceding comprehension of the topic, experiences surrounding it, and relevant information
(Langer, J. 1983). Flower and Hayes say that the theme must be identified and placed in an
environment to explore its parts. Yet, authors established that writing, reviewing, revising, and
evaluating took place all together. Furthermore, it can be embraced by Task-Based Learning and
Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach providing instructional structure to accomplish
these three stages of the process; since both contain suitable pace to achieve it effectively.
The Cognitive Process Model of the Composing Process (Flower and Hayes, 1981)
Task-Based Learning
Task Based Learning is one of the most applied teaching approaches since the exploitation of
real language is promoted (Willis, 1996). The main purpose of TBL is to develop from existing
knowledge or ideas language proficiency. As a method it contains all language skills in one lesson
following a framework to achieve an outcome, which includes three stages:
Instruction on learning strategies
Strategies help to achieve tasks in structured and consequential ways. Every learner is able to
create mental pathways making their brains connect new ideas to pre-existing notions (Anderson
& Barnhardt in Echavarria, 2008). Students gain autonomy and control with learning strategies, but
they need to know how to use them, when to use them, and the reason why they want to use them;
covering all declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge (Lipson & Wilson in Echavarria,
2008). Learning strategies as stated by O’Malley and Chamot are of three different kinds:
1. Social/affective strategies involve cooperative learning performance and provide learners
with communicative skills.
2. Cognitive strategies promote understanding helping learners with the arrangement of
information they handle.
3. Metacognitive strategies bring awareness to identify and decide if the execution is
successful or not.
Usually, the task sets the strategy and its development. Strategies should support students’
learning activities with one clear objective guided under the estimation of its complexity to
succesfully achieve any task by means of a procedural action, brought together in five phases:
Strategy implementation following Cognitive Academic Learning Language Approach (O’Malley,
1994) provides different techniques. Theory stated by Flower and Hayes (in Hyland, 2009)
includes the connection of long-term memory and a specific task. This task sets goals for writers,
as mentioned by Willis in her Task-Based Learning Framework (1996).
Literature review
Gathering information from common teaching scenarios to know how teachers and writers use
different techniques to develop their pieces of work.
Planning: Idea generation and organization
Students bring prior ideas and express new thoughts by means of their long-term memory. Two
studies revealed that writers not only need to be familiar with the topic, but they need strategies
to approach difficulties. In Indonesia, Pryla Wati (2011) developed students’ writing abilities
using prewriting strategies. Students’ counteracted lack of ideas effectively raising their scores’
23% (Wati, 2011), corroborating the importance of using strategies when planning. As well,
Judith Langer and Arthur Applebee (1983) in California stated that ideas are more important than
mechanics when writing, suggesting different strategies for thoughts generation and organization
problem. Results confirmed that using strategies to generate and organize ideas is fundamental in
the writing process (Judith A. Langer, 1983).
Translating: Sentence and paragraph organization
Writers put ideas previously generated on a paper to communicate; transforming ideas into
words, involving language structure, grammar, and spelling. These studies demonstrated that
during translation stage students need to be conscious of what they are doing; they need time
and constancy to develop writing skills. As reported by teachers of twenty different universities
in Japan (Izzo, 1999), rethorical complications identified were because writers did not know to
how to develop sentences or parragraphs, which engendered central message misunderstanding.
Likewise, Asser & Poom-Valickis (2002) motivated students to be writers supplying the right
tools to complete the stages of the writing process. Students improved their writing skills through
instruction, analysis, reflection, and providing constant feedback making them constant observers
of their own work.
Reviewing: Error removal
Writers evaluate and revise their work. This practice simultaneously takes place with translating.
Studies reviewed showed that strategies as self, peer correction and reading aloud make writing
comprehensible for students. In Chigago, Kowaleski, Murphy, and Starns (2002) improved
elementary school students’ writing skills instructing pre-writing, writing, and revision strategies
within a ten week program. Students evaluated themselves with a six feature rubric. 95% of the
students were above the expectation level after using the rubric. In Florida, Greenberg (1997)
implemented successfully strategies as peer correction, proofreading, workshops, and cooperative
working to a preparatory English course for students who did not pass universities’ entrance exam
because they did not have enough writing skills.
Data collection techniques, analysis and interpretation
Through data collection research projects are trustable and credible (Mills, 2007). To gather
appropriate data for this project qualitative and quantitative instruments were used. Since the
main purpose was to implement learning strategies to enhance nineteen students’ written
communicative skills; three instruments were chosen to complete the data collection. (1) surveys,
(2) questionnaires, and (3) artifacts.
1) Surveys: The purpose of surveys is to condense all information supplied by participants to
numbers making these descriptive data quantitative (Mills, 2007).
First survey estimated writers’ motivation and activity development. It contained sentences aiming
at clarifying what were students’ perceptions. They saw themselves as writers and perceived writing
as important. Another purpose of the survey was to identify if motivation issues could cause
problems. Results showed that students think they have no problem when writing; expressing
confidence or in regards to willingness.
Second survey was taken from Strategies for Success by H. Douglas Brown (2002) to see if
students were individual learners. Results showed that 40% of the students often used learning
strategies. 21% always practiced these different activities. 26% of the population declared to
employ them sometimes. 11% do it few times and only 2% denied developing any of those
actions by themselves.
Third survey listed seven strategies applied during the semester to know if students considered
them helpful or not. The most popular was brainstorming; students said this strategy helped
them organize and categorize ideas. For students sentences were more complete using the WhatWhy-How sentence organizer (Peha, S. 2003). Students chose outlining as one helpful strategy
because idea categorization was easier to do. Besides, students acknowledged reading aloud as
a good practice to revise their work.
2) Questionnaires allow researchers to collect big quantities of information in a very short time
(Mills, 2007). Questionnaires sought to know about writers’ developmental perceptions and
opinions about the writing process.
First questionnaire identified if students commonly used graphic organizers. The questionnaire
included two questions.
Do you know what a graphic organizer is? If so, how do you use graphic organizers? All
students knew what a graphic organizer was; they listed them saying they used them to understand
topics faster and for quizzes. Few students admitted to use them as pre-writing activity.
Do you think graphic organizers are helpful? Why? Students considered graphic organizers
were an aid to organize ideas before they write. They said organizers were helpful; others declared
that graphic organizers were not helpful even saying that they make all work more complicated.
Second questionnaire was undertaken after the implementation of all strategies and its purpose
was to know about students’ perceptions regarding learning strategies.
Question number one What do you think about learning strategies? Students considered learning
strategies a nice and easy way to learn concepts. They stated that by using learning strategies, they
had a clearer idea what they were going to learn organizing ideas better and correcting mistakes.
Question number two Do you think learning strategies helped you in your writing process?
Students said learning strategies helped in idea generation, organization, and categorization. For
students the use of learning strategies was not difficult. They enriched their language and helped
them improve in their schools as well.
Question number three Do you think you writing skills improved this semester? Students said
they noticed the difference after using learning strategies admitting that they had organizational
problems with ideas, sentences and paragraphs. They mentioned that their grammar and structure
in English improved during that semester.
3) Artifacts are data to understand evidence of participants’ work progression (Mills, 2007). Pre
and post-test material was kept to see if strategies improve or not students’ organization.
Pedagogical Implementation
Learning Strategies Instruction analysis pondered how students worked and performed, attentive
to notice any improvement in any of the stages of the writing process.
Students used strategies as grouping, brainstorming, and outlining.
Most of the students identified the strategy; the graphic organizer was common for them because
they used it in their schools. They followed the model provided and used the language focus to
develop the task.
Students followed three steps to brainstorm: (1) address the problem, (2) write down five ideas
about it, and (3) define their criteria. When using sing listing, students did not set their criteria,
while they did it when using a graphic organizer.
Students wrote the first letter including main idea, activities to get money, and school inaccuracies.
They showed understanding on using the word because and the task was developed. Once they
received instructions to use the graphic organizer they concentrated on two problems, found what
to do to get money, how they were going to do it and the reason why. The second letter proved that
outlining strategy makes paragraphs clearer in terms of communication and intention.
Students used strategies related to grammar, sentence order and category, and connectors usage.
Classifying sentences within a paragraph using the activity from the book From Writing to
Composing by Ingram & King (1949), students looked at four pictures and nineteen sentences in
disorder, they organized each sentence as the pictures appeared.
Students rewrote the organized story along with the events in the picture using connectors of
sequence and addition to organize it.
Students fulfilled 4-box graphic organizer describing scary situations by answering questions
using simple past and past continuous. They constructed sentences keeping in mind the questions.
They did not use What-Why-How graphic organizer (Peha, S. 2003), results were positive though.
Pre and post-tests collected information establishing differences about What-Why-How organizer
(Peha, S. 2003). In a piece of paper students wrote sentences concerning situations depicted in
a picture.
What-Why-How organizer (Peha, S. 2003) was introduced to students with sentences considering
the picture they just observed requesting them to fill out the information.
Students created their own sentences following the example reproducing a sentence with complete
parts and appropriate use of grammar functions.
Awakening students’ awareness to judge their own or peers’ work using self and peer correction
Reading aloud
Students read their written reports to examine mistakes. They worked in couples and exchanged
papers to read their partners’ papers aloud. Teacher gave students a blue marker to correct their
partners’ mistakes.
Peer correction
Students used a checklist to peer correct written pieces. They exchanged reports and reviewed
bullets in the checklist to receive suggestions or pieces of advice. Again, they were given the blue
marker to act as proofreaders and correct.
Adapted from the website Daily Writing Tips:
Graphic organizers gave students a clearer idea to develop written tasks. The most used strategies
brainstorming, What-Why-How, and outlining were developed implementing graphic organizers.
Similarly, workshops in the reviewing stage were positive because students could share and
realize that their written works sometimes lack things they did not think about.
Action Plan
• Continue to implement and explore learning strategies improving writing skills.
• Provide more specific written feedback for students in their written reports to help them with
idea generation, grammar organization and categorization, sentence and paragraph structure,
spelling mistakes, and punctuation.
• Share findings with colleagues to enhance writing skills.
Instruction on learning strategies within the Task-Based Learning Framework implemented during
this action research project demonstrated that students can successfully complete their written
tasks following the principles stated by Flower & Hayes’s theory (in Hyland, 2009). This fact,
linked to literature reviewed, clearly embodies the use of strategies to first tackle lack of ideas
through systematically generating and structuring thoughts (Wati, 2011). Additionally, Flower
and Hayes (in Hyland, 2009) enounced that tasks must be common and connected to the
writers’ goals. As well, Langer and Applebee (1983), writers are instructed to cover needs when
accomplishing tasks. Once again, Flower and Hayes (in Hyland, 2009) insisted that writers must
be aware of strategies used to fulfill the task all through, making writers constant observers of
their work; recognizing mistakes and correcting errors to enhance their work and facing problems
such as structure and ordering (Poom-Valickis, 2002). Understanding why these issues appear
and how they can be solved by providing students with appropriate tools to deal with trivialities.
Brainstorming, outlining, categorizing, rubrics, peer correction, and proofreading, supplied writers
with intelligible objectives to accomplish stipulated goals, benefitting students in their writing
process. As a final point the undertaken project was a great help for the researcher and will be for
interested colleagues.
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Felipe Cárdenas
Centro Colombo Americano Bogotá
[email protected]
Maximizing EFL Students’ Writing
Skills through an Asynchronous
Learning Network: Facebook
The main aim of this study is to show how to enhance EFL students’ writing skills by using an
asynchronous virtual space. It begins by exploring the accomplishment of curriculum at a language
institute in Bogota, Colombia. Next, the article illustrates some of the teacher’s opportunities to
monitor language content use and also increase students’ active writing practice involvement in
and out the EFL classroom. Afterwards, the article gives a description of assessment for improving
student commitment in both face-to-face and online settings. Finally, the author arguments the
strategic planning of activities to facilitate students’ interaction and self-awareness in future
written texts.
This article describes the teacher’s experience when observing how the contents of the curriculum
at the Centro Colombo Americano (CCA) are evident when analyzing student’s writing on
Facebook. Students’ interactions on this asynchronous virtual space are shaped in the form of
the construction of language learned during the class sessions, as well as offer up a window to
the world that communicates through written English. This study shows how students transform
their knowledge in the language and own it for real purposes on a daily basis. Through important
examples the teacher –researcher is able to point out
how the intentional adequateness of meaningful online homework is a a valuable tool for English
language teachers to bring together course contents and get to provoke written communication
and real use of the language in a foreign language context.
The teacher –researcher was involved in applying an Asynchronous Learning Network (ALN)
to successfully build purposeful discussions that could lead to the consolidation of language
structures. Hiltz and Goldman (2005) deal with the feature of asynchronicity itself as it sets ALNs
away from alternative learning settings, on or off-line, highlighting “Asynchronicity, which may
at first seem to be a disadvantage, is the single most important factor in creating a collaborative
teaching and learning environment”. As members of a virtual space, students find chances to
avoid time limitations, and similarly benefits of thinking and editing more cautiously before and
after posting multiple contributions. “An advantage of an ALN is that every person can think about,
compose and revise their contributions at their own optimal speed, before posting them” (Hiltz,
At the CCA students are trained to carry out a specific project every three months and also
demonstrate appropriateness of language contents that could take them to be autonomous
learners. Josephine Taylor (2009) stated, “Even though the program is structured in such a way
that students should be working on the overall program goals as they go through the tasks and
projects, it is important to make them aware of what they are achieving and why we think it is
important. This exploration of students’ expectations is crucial for them to begin to examine their
own beliefs and to question whether and how they may adapt to a new way of learning”.
Swan (2003) stated, “Asynchronous threaded discussion is a frequently used tool because it is
seen as more democratic and allows students to fully formulate their ideas. The author then could
emphasize on the importance of using an ALN, in this case Facebook to help students engage
themselves to the curriculum and to their own learning process by strengthening their writing in
the EFL setting. Students’ interactions on this asynchronous space provoked deep analysis of
current issues and real use of the language in a foreign context which contributed to reach goals
for their project and most importantly, their own process as EFL students.
The Study
Students from a 3 month Advanced English level course were asked by the teacher to join a page
on Facebook (FB) to foster extra practice of the contents in the curriculum for the course. They
were aware of the characteristics of Facebook pages which do not interfere with people’s profile
privacy. During the three months students started answering questions for homework, showing
their beliefs and concepts by commenting pictures or videos depending on the book content and
the issues that were constantly arisen in the face to face sessions. One advantage of using this ALN
was that the teacher-researcher did not have to train students since Facebook is widely known and
fortunately, all of the members of the class were acquainted on the usage of this space. Students
were very participative and committed due to the fact that FB showed them if somebody else had
replied to their contributions and so, they got to read and debate online.“All notifications, friend
requests, and new messages will appear in the upper left corner of the site. When you have a new
notification, a red bubble will be displayed over the corresponding feature with the number of new
notifications you have received.” - Facebook, Help Center.
Most of the steps mentioned by Salmon, G. (2000) in his five stage E-learning model were
involved in the different moments of the study where students in class were provided with not
only language content and communication strategies, but also with extra material to reinforce
their written texts. Material such worksheets, lists of connectors, verbs and even videos or links
were used to increase accuracy and appropriate use of a more academic writing. It is also relevant
to mention one of the disadvantages of Facebook as an online tool, despite students write in
this platform, their writing is different from the academic writing and most of them are not aware
of the inside and outside school writing. The students are usually unable to consider writing as
an engaging activity to express themselves as well as a tool to perform in academic situations.
Yancey (2009) discusses how FB and similar tools such as blogs and online forums can be used
so students can see writing done in these new media as “writing” and they can make use of these
media to become better writers.
Later in class students were to read their own posts and monitor their error repetition and/or
correction. Ross-Gordon, and Dowling (1995) have promulgated earlier: “learning from mistakes,
learning by doing, learning through networking, and learning from a series of interpersonal
experiments”. These assessment moments were necessary since according to Gross Davis, B.
in his article Tools for Teaching (1993) teachers should take five or ten minutes of class time
for students to read their writing to each other in groups. It is important for students to hear what
their peers have written in order to avoid making mistakes and clarify doubts in terms of form and
Preliminary results from the analysis of contributions on FB indicated that students could activate
language structures, vocabulary and academic language as part of the maximization of their
writing skills. The following excerpts show some of the use of the language and communicative
content in the text book (Summit 1):
Unit 1 – New Perspectives, optimism vs. pessimism, life-changing experiences, Use of gerunds
and infinitives, describing personality: (Question: In order to succeed, how important is your
perspective in life? Do you think it’s better to be optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in the
middle? Explain) “Alejandra Rodriguez Rodriguez I think we must be balanced in everything we
can. Particulary in this case, i think that if you’re optimistic or pessimistic, life would show you how
to be realistic in a very interesting way, for example, an optimistic person could take a lot of risks
until having a life altering experience. And in the other hand, a pessimistic would notice that he/
she is stuck because he/she doesn’t see the big picture, so he/she doesn’t succed. In conclusion,
is better to analize each situation of life from a realistic point of view, believing in ourselves to get
what we want, but with our feet on the floor”. “Natalia Duarte Honestly, I think it’s better being in
the middle. On the one hand, bad experiences make you realize what were your mistakes and how
to be better in the next situation. On the other hand, good experiences can help you to feel more
optimistic. However, being optimistic or pessimistic depends on the place you are talking about.
I’ve worked in Cazuca and it has been a real eye opener experience for me because the reality is
more than just a bad or a positive attitude. If you see the big picture, the reality will hit you: being
optimistic won’t help those people to get a credit or to build a beautiful house because there are
some structural factors in Colombia that don’t led them to move on. The solution, of course, is
not to have a cynical attitude, but to understand that sometimes bad things happen (specially the
most disadvantaged) and it doesn’t depend on a beautiful smile on your face”. “Marcela Aragón
“Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something is not to your liking, change your
liking.” , said Rick Steves. This phrase describes me, because according to my whole life´s
experiences, that´s what i´ve been trying to do: giving myself choices and doing things that i
didn´t know I could. Although it´s been really hard, I don’t’ like seeing obstacles and i try to see
the big picture because finally I´ve realized what´s really important for me”. “Paula Andrea Rojas
I totally agree with you. Being in the middle of both views is the best way to find stability. However,
you should try to be a little more optimistic than pessimistic ... “being a number 2” according to
the activity in class.”The mind attracts good or bad energy, and things are a matter of attitude.”
I do not know what you think about this phrase. But I think it is reasonable to some extent. Some
experiences of our lives can change our way of being or thinking in certain situations. The idea
is to try to put things in perspective and analyze the different ways of dealing with this situation”.
Unit 4 - Looking Good, Use of prefix Self-,Use of quantifiers, discussion on how men and women
change their appearance and the media influence on body image, the beauty on the outside vs.
the inside: (Students commenting a youtube video of Jocelyn Wildenstein before and after plastic
surgery) “Angela Parra Romero, As well as I know, someone who has made a big deal of surgeries
just for vanity and not for necessity is a person with low or no self-esteem. It seems clear to me
that if you’re getting old and the media shows a great deal of “beautiful” people that have the same
age than you, but looks so much younger than they really are, you should start to create an unreal
ideal of aging, where you only listen and see your self-pity emotions. As a result, your self-image
changes and an alter-ego may appear, this one will start to feed you with empty and banal thoughts
and also without self-confidence, as we can see on Jocelyn Wildenstein transformation”. “Carlos
Alberto Rojas The message in this video is very clear, it’s a consequence of the low self-esteem
that many people have due to the media manipulation. Moreover, there are a few groups of people
that say what is beauty, and this is a problem because what is beauty depends on each person. I
believe that the woman in this video has a plastic surgery adiction which is the result of not being
self-confident and always having as a model the women that appear in TV. This story serves to
open the eyes and allow many families to understand what is the message that media and TV are
sending to their children”. “Andres Felipe Montesinos Luna In my opinion, this woman is very
self-critical. Also for me, she is self-consious on the limit, because if she weren’t worried about
how she looks, she wouldn’t have done that to herself. Although she knows how does she looks,
the question to aks is why does she continuous being like that. It is widely known that a lot of
women have done surgeries, but from my point of view each one of us is unique and we must not
preted to be like others, because is in that point when we lose our identity.” Unit 5 – Community, Discuss social responsibility, Use of prefixes to form antonyms, Use of
paired conjunctions: (How important is it for a person to activate his/her sense of community?
For instance regarding organ donation?) “Natalia Duarte In the first place, we should be aware of
our position in a society: by being part of a society as a whole, it’s logical we are going to need
of others and those others are going to require of us. Therefore, activating a sense of community
is not only a duty, but also a responsability. What is more, I think we should think of what we have
and what we don’t in order to be able to share some of our privileges with the most disadvataged
people. Either in reference to organ donation or about volunteering, we need to keep this in mind:
we never know when a misfortune may come, so it should be considerate to help those who have
problems, perhaps they might help us tomorrow”. “Andres Felipe Montesinos Luna In the first
place, it is important to have a community sense, not only because of the benefit these acts can
bring to other people’s life, but also for the increasement of our human quality. In addition, I think
that it is important to help other people without waiting for a payment, you know, the really good
actions are gratificant by themselves. It seems to me that in the case of organ donators, I really
value their actions, because I don’t know what I would do if I were in a situation like that, It is very
complicated to take a decision in which you have to put other life above yours. I guess, I don’t
want to face such a situation. Finally, I hope one day we will be able to help to another people not
only in little things, but also in decisive things for us and every else”. ” Diana Puerto If something
shocking happened in your life, then the wisest way is not only thinking about it, but also changing
your lifestyle positively and showing the situation to others in many manners. In my case, I never
thought to donate my organs maybe I couldn’t understand enough. Suddenly, one of my friends
needed heart transplantation in 2009. Immediately, all his friends and relatives searched a heart
for him without any result. My friend died because his body couldn’t resist anymore. His death was
a great loss because he was brilliant and a nice person. This fact changed my life. Now, Camilo’s
friends are going to donate our organs and I try to “Live at least 55 seconds per day” (55DSL’s
Unit 6 – Animals, Discuss ways animals are used or treated. Use the passive voice with modals:
(Youtube video of a crocodile biting its tamer´s hand during a circus performance. Question:
What´s your opinion on animals that are trained to perform in circuses?) “Liliana P Ortiz O Gosh!!!!
This video is really awesome!. In my view, the scene shows why wild animals shouldn’t be used
for entertainment, not only because they could be brought to dangerous situation as we saw, but
also to be respectful with them. Something similar occurs with fightbulling, it is so sad to see an
injured bull running away for the pain. In addition, I think no one likes to be used for entertaining of
others, that is not funny. In conclusion, from my point of view, training of animals for performing in
circus, must be prohibited”. “Katherin Borda At first, for me some animals are source of food and
others have given us love and company as pets, however the use of animals either for food or pet
should be more controled because getting the meat or having a pet doesn’t mean that the animals
must be subjected of mistreated. Secondly, I think that wild animals have to live in their place
of origin. The animals are neither objects nor clowns that we can train to enjoy us, they are alive
as us and they deserve respect too”. “Natalia Duarte Honestly, I think these events happen when
men try to train animals just for fun. That’s why some animals can’t be raised for entertainment,
because they are aggressive by nature. Therefore, if that man was bitten by the alligator, we should
understand that animals like the alligator can’t fight against their nature”.
Unit 7 – Advertising and Consumers, React to ads. Use passive forms of infinitives and gerunds.
(Youtube video of a banned commercial for condoms) “Alejandra Rodriguez Rodriguez Hello
everyone! Personally, the first reaction I had watching this TV commercial was laughing; it really
cracks me up, but then I started to think what would happen if I was in this situation, so I finally,
conclude that I don’t expect to be told that I’m pregnant because I think most of people would enjoy
being entretained by a son or a daughter, but are they ready to deal with the anoying part of being
parents? This TV commercial was also an eye opener for me!”. “Natalia Duarte That child drove me
crazy!! In my view, the message that this commercial conveyed was perfectly understood. I really
enjoyed being entertained by this creative idea about using condoms, it cracked me up! But I was
desperate to be disturbed by those kid’s screams: they got on my nerves!”. “Angela Parra Romero
In my opinion the first part of this commercial is not only funny, but also gets on my nerves due
to the loud screams of the child. Nevertheless, I consider that this guy resents being treated like
a father. His expression of annoyance says everything when you don’t expect a child into your life
plans. It seems to me that showing and feeling the reality of become in parents; especially when
you don’t want it, could help in avoid some unexpected pregnancies”. Unit 8 – Family Trends, Transform verbs and adjectives into nouns, Discuss care for the elderly.
Use repeated comparatives and double comparatives: (How would you like to be cared for when
you get old?) “Jaivarud Crist Hello everyone!Today I expect to talk about how I would like to
be cared for when I get old. In the first place, I believe that when people begin to get old, they
may begin become a burden. That is to say, when people get old the behavior begin to change
more and more. The more elderly people are, the harder is to take care them. Not only change
their physical appearance, but also sometimes their behavior start to be annoying. For instance,
Conventional wisdom says that when people get old, people return to be a child for that reason
it’s so hard to take care them. In short, when I’ll be old, I would like to be cared by my near family
preferably at home, I don’t want to live far away neither of my grandsons or my loved ones, I hope
to no be a bad grandpa. Bye”. “Natalia Duarte Frankly, I don’t want to be a burden to anybody.
Children are not in my future, so I hope the responsibility of taking care of myself falls back on
my shoulders. For instance, I would wish to live in my own house with my partner (my husband,
my boyfriend, my lover, whatever), to earn enough money for spending in trips and health, and to
have a sort of assitant couple who make the housework. Of course, I would need to much money
and that’s why I couldn’t agree more with Angela: buying and leasing apartments is an excellent
source of income. Well, I hope to get a good job in order to save enough money, if I want my
dreams come true. Nobody knows: future is uncertain and I can finish my days in a geriatric or
with my worried children”.
Unit 9, History´s Mysteries. Use ways to express uncertainty. Discuss the credibility of stories.
Use indirect speech with modals. Use perfect modals in the passive voice for speculating about
the past: (Students watched a video of a real case in Bogota where a man committed suicide by
jumping off from a building, they speculated in class and were asked to report on FB) “Liliana
P Ortiz O Hello everyone! Janeth told me he probably had not found other better solution than
the suicide. In addition, she told me she thought suicidal people are cowards, but who knows?,
It is possible this guy was more brave than other people, he maked a decision: “not live” and I
believe, for making any decision in extreme moment, people need bravery”. “Angela Parra Romero
Jonathan told me that clearly the man died. One of the reasons that he gave to me to explain the
suicide was that this guy probably had mental problems. Similarly, he said that he guess that
the authorities could not help him and also that the man was a good climber. Nevertheless, for
Jonathan watching the man jumping was a shocking moment”. “Samuel David Angel Carolina
said that man had financial problems and ended A relationship with his girlfriend, and for these
circumstances he decided to commit suicide. I think is very easy to speculate about this. But
honestly, I don’t know which were the real reasons that this man had to make this madness”.
(Next day, students were asked to speculate about Luis Andres Colmenares’ murder which is a
very well known case Colombia) Natalia Duarte From my point of view, Colmenares must have
been killed by Laura Moreno. It could be a broken heart problem, but it’s uncertain. Every day a lot
of murders happen in this country and we just pay attention to those that means of communication
make us watch: but what about the murders made by guerrilla and paramilitary groups? There’s
no doubt that hundreds and hundreds of people had to be killed and tortured by these groups and
this Colombian society seems to be more concerned about just one murder (a high class guy,
by the way). I’m not saying than some deaths are more important than others, but I criticize the
Colombians selective memory and their morbid mind as well”. “Andrea Lopez Personally, I think
that Luis Colmenares might have been killed by Carlos Cardenas, Probably his body must have
been knocked using knife weapond and bottles. It´s obvious that his body couldn´t have been
founded in “El caño del virrey”, because crime never happens there. Clearly the videos to controll
the neighborhood couldn´t have been found by police, because It´s posible that the murder paid
to hide it. I´ll bet in firefighters testimony and also in the results of forensic medicine. In brief, I
want to say that 2 years later the puzzle pieces doesn´t fit together”. “Angela Parra Romero More
and more people continue talking about this case. I guess that it may have been happened not only
because almost every day something new about the Colmenares’ case appears in the news, but
also due to the morbidity around the death of a wealthy boy. Moreover, there is no question that
most relevant news could have been showed instead of this “Séptimo día” case. Nevertheless,
in my opinion those kind of news are important to show the consequences of the misbehavior of
some spoiled boys, who think that they can do everything that they desire without any punishment.
And similarly I expect that this will become in a good example for some lenient parents”.
The implementation of Facebook led participants from this study to enhance not only vocabulary
and grammar but also to defend their ideas for discussion politely through formal conjunctions
and academic writing. The constant use and revision of this social network allowed students to
participate steadily without seeing this as imposed homework. They began to show appropriateness
of most of the content seen in class and revealing this in the project at the CCA: Writing a position
paper. Students demonstrated domain of the structures in and out of class and get to present their
position paper by implementing the majority of the aspects from class resulting in very good and
excellent essays.
Similarly, the feedback provided in class on students’ sentence error in written work was scaffolded
so that they could evolve their writing contributions every time they were asked to read in front of
their classmates at the beginning of the sessions. Gilmore (2008) argued five advantages of error
correction in writing. One of them, “An advantage of complete reformulation of error by teacher
is that students receive accurate and comprehensive feedback, which specifically addresses their
language needs”. However, as the sessions went by and several errors encountered repetition,
the teacher-researcher started to reduce the workload as peer-assessment was encouraged. “Inclass peer-feedback provides a wider audience for students’ work, which can have a motivating
effect. It encourages greater cognitive processing of errors by students and promotes learner
independence. It also encourages collaboration and negotiation of meaning in the classroom”.
(Gilmore 2008)
It is also important to clarify the fact of setting rules at the beginning of the course, the teacher
advised students not to focus on correcting peers’ mistakes online but on contributing to the
analysis of thoughts. Later in the face-to-face session they would realize their own mistakes
and either correct themselves or help others notice their errors. “Nonetheless, the first type
of recommended assessment relies on the learner themselves to conduct an honest selfassessment” (Woods, 1996). Likewise, Barrows (1999) argued that beyond self-evaluation there
are other methods that can be used for the purpose of assessment. Similar to self-assessment
would be the use of peer-evaluation.
The biggest challenge is without a doubt the need of getting students’ attention and awareness
towards strategic daily planning of questions, videos, links, pictures that can encourage members
to participate and provoke authentic interaction among them. Woods and Ebersole (2003) noted,
“It is the teacher who must take the primary responsibility for building a sense of connectedness
and community in an online course”. Swan and Shea point back to Carol Twigg’s (2000) challenge
to educators to leave behind the old “in-seat” limits to teaching and learning in order to develop
new paradigms that can more readily realize the full potential for deepened learning online.
There is a clear point when using online networks as a tech tool in the learning process, and that
is the time a tutor/teacher will have to spend when correcting, providing feedback and analyzing
students’ performance. According to Gilly Salmons’ model (2000) the five stages the individual has
to go through are along with his/her tutor in order to cope with the learning processes via on-line.
Gilly makes a clear distinction in the stages and shows since stage one (access and motivation)
the role of the tutor when delegating students responsibilities and encourage quieter members to
participate, facilitate the learning process and by stage five (Development) it is the students’ job
to take risks, reflect upon his/her and others’ processes as well as lead further discussions. Then,
if students are well trained since the very beginning in identifying error correction and eliciting
them consciously at the time of group reading, moments for correction will occur and little by little
the teacher – student assessment will diminish and the group and peer assessment will increase
by resulting in the reduction of teacher’s work load and will benefit students’ writing fluency. “Of
course, as classroom activities, they are also more time consuming, but the increased Cognitive
work they require should also lead to greater learning gains” (Cobb 1997)
One of the students (Liliana Ortiz) confessed in class that her process had improved and
she felt the class as a therapy to relieve her busy life. She also pointed out the importance of
going beyond the 2 hour session from Monday to Friday and “connect” to English in order to get
better results. Other students described the use of FB as a dynamic and didactic way of studying
a foreign language. Mills (2009) discovered that her students – with the help of Facebook as an
authentic environment for enhancing communication, interaction and discussions in French were
able to meet the grammatical, functional and linguistic objectives of her French language course.
She had also highlighted that the use of Facebook was culturally relevant to her students. Her
students also felt that the French class was more fun and applicable with the use of Facebook
and this enhanced classroom discussions among the French language learners. Mills could get
encouraged as well to be more accurate with the use of her French.
Finally, since asynchronous communication appears at the learner’s convenience, Facebook
took discussions to another level by letting the members expand and have their own voice. That
voice that sometimes cannot be heard in the classroom while fitting the busy schedules of today’s
learners. Nelson E. (2010) asserts, since the communication is preserved in writing, it also assists
in the metacognitive process. The improvement of the language learners’ performance based
theories of E-learning will arise allowing the immediacy of more meaningful research of best
practices in students’ learning.
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