Engaging students in speaking assessment to increase their participation in speaking activities

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Teachers sometimes find it challenging to engage students in speaking activities. Some students shy away from the task because they do not have the confidence for public speaking especially in the second language, or they simply find the tasks inauthentic and thus find little value in participating. However, researchers claim that there is more to students’ poor participation in class speaking activities than the above. Juzwik, Borsheim-Black, Caughlan, and Heintz (2014) maintain that while student-led and student-centered talk should be the ultimate goal of any educational assignment, teacher talk tends to dominate. Teacher talk is necessary and often required as an organization tool, but when it dominates, it robs students of the opportunity to participate and to improve their speaking skills.  Continue Reading →

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Why teachers need to care about self-care

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“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel”. -Eleanor Brownn

Teaching is a profession that requires giving of one’s self to make a difference for students. The chronic use of empathy and depletion of emotional resources are strongly associated with emotional exhaustion and/or professional burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001). Also, challenges such as student behaviour, precarious work, multiple workloads or administrative responsibilities can add to the pressures of this demanding profession.

There is a growing interest in the area of student well-being but everyone must flourish, including students, teachers, and administrative staff. Research studies suggest that learning happens best when teachers and their students are well but the added benefit is that as teachers flourish,  Continue Reading →

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The nature and impact of portfolio-based language assessment (PBLA)

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Abstract

The nature and effects of PBLA were investigated. I examined LINC program evaluations, government-solicited assessment reports, PBLA research, and other PBLA-related documents. I discuss the features of PBLA and its reported effects on language outcomes and teacher and student attitudes. I found that the government did not provide a rationale for PBLA and that the results of research did not support the introduction of PBLA. I also found that PBLA is neither standardized nor portfolio-based as claimed. It is costlier, more time-consuming, and appears to have more teacher pushback than the approach it replaced. Regardless, there is no evidence that the LINC program has improved students’ language skills before or after the implementation of PBLA

In 2010,  Continue Reading →

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Self-assessment for language teachers

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Students are very often encouraged to engage in self-assessment in the belief that this allows them to take ownership of their learning and contributes to the development of learner autonomy. Similar arguments apply to teacher self-assessment: by reflecting systematically on their competences, language teachers can become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and take more responsibility for their own professional development. In recognition of its value, teacher self-assessment is promoted in several education systems around the world; for example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland offers teachers a tool called a self-evaluation wheel. In other educational systems, such as Chile, teacher self-assessment is a formal component of teacher evaluation. In recent years, a number of frameworks have emerged which can support the use of self-assessment specifically for language teachers.  Continue Reading →

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Migration, trauma and mental illness: Implications for language learning

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The number of international migrants (people living outside their country of birth) reached 258 million in 2017. That is more than 3% of the earth’s population (United Nations General Assembly International Migration and Development, 2018). Who are these 258 million? How and why have they left their homelands behind? Did they depart for faraway places voluntarily or under duress? North(ern) America has been host to 22% of those international migrants, meaning that as many as 56 million people have had to learn—or are still learning—English when settling into their new lives in Canada or the U.S.

At this point, it would be good to remind ourselves that many of the migrants who have arrived on North American shores,  Continue Reading →

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Students at the margins

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Since 1980, the number of university-bound students has more than doubled. The expectations that parents and youth have around attaining post-secondary credentials has become a taken-for-granted reality. No doubt that you have heard that “a university degree is the new high school diploma.” Extensive university and college expansions have occurred in all areas across the country to accommodate this growing desire. The 2016 Federal Census revealed that Canada has the highest proportion of university and college graduates in all of the OECD countries, with more than half of adult citizens between the ages of 25 and 64 having such a credential (Statistics Canada, 2017).

There is widespread perception that it is only possible to get a good job by attaining post-secondary education.  Continue Reading →

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Assessment
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Race and employability in private language schools

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What racial identity do you need in order to be considered a competent English language teacher? This question may seem absurd because race seemingly has nothing to do with one’s ability in English language teaching (ELT). However, in a small study examining the experiences of 10 teachers of colour looking for work in various private language schools in Toronto, Canada (see Ramjattan, 2015), I found that these teachers came to understand from employers that being white meant that one was better qualified to teach English. Therefore, the opposite message was that people of colour lacked the competence to teach the language.

These employer sentiments do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they should be seen as ongoing manifestations of racist,  Continue Reading →

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Insights into the Challenges Experienced by Chinese ESL Learners

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Imagine you were an international student, studying at an educational institution in China, with very limited spoken Chinese. How might you feel, trying frantically to understand a completely foreign language; if you were voiceless, unable to communicate something you were desperate to say; if you were also all alone, far away from home?

In the age of globalization, it is common practice for Canadian educational institutions to recruit international ESL students (Zhang & Beck, 2014). The biggest group of international students in Canada is from China (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2017). But how do Chinese international students actually experience education in Canada? The term “acculturation” refers to the psychological adaptation process that immigrants go through when settling in a new country (Smith &  Continue Reading →

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The effect of first language on intelligibility

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This study consists of two parts. The first part is the report of two experiments carried out to see the effect of a shared first language (L1) on second language (L2) intelligibility. The concern of the investigation was specifically pronunciation and phonological factors. The second part deals with pronunciation errors of Mandarin and Vietnamese speakers that are motivated by their respective phonological systems, thus providing help with designing pronunciation teaching materials.

The study was started with the following research question: Do English learners understand each other better in English when they share the same first language? This L1 effect is sometimes referred to as Interlanguage Speech Intelligibility Benefit (Bent & Bradlow 2003) and it is not a new question,  Continue Reading →

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Learning-to-write and writing-to-learn in a foreign language

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In this paper, I will demonstrate how the reciprocally-supported development of linguistic knowledge and writing expertise can be achieved in a college-level foreign-language classroom. To that end, I will address the theoretical interplay between systemic functional linguistic (SFL) concepts and task-based language teaching (TBLT) as a means to enrich the fields of teaching writing in a foreign language. To date, SFL approaches to second language (L2) pedagogies such as TBLT have been rather rare in second language acquisition (SLA) research. Due to the traditional boundaries between the disciplines of SLA and L2 writing (Ortega, 2012), language development (the writing-to-learn dimension) and writing development (the learning-to-write dimension) have been investigated separately (Manchón, 2011). This article therefore argues that for some of the core yet still insufficiently explored issues in the fields of SLA—the reciprocally-supported development of linguistic knowledge and writing expertise—linking the SFL theory to the idea of TBLT may help language teachers to develop a more realistic idea of how writing can be taught on the one hand,  Continue Reading →

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Writing
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Perception, production, and perception–production: Research findings and implications for language pedagogy

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When we are born our perceptual systems are capable of discriminating sounds that occur in English, Spanish, Hindi, or any other language. During the first year, our perception begins to zero in on the particular set of sounds that are contrastive in our native language(s) (L1s) (Kuhl et al., 2006). For example, a child whose parents are L1 English speakers will pick up on the fact that /b/ and /p/ are contrastive in English (e.g., “bet” vs. “pet”) and that the major difference is in the burst of air that occurs when the stop is released (i.e., there is a stronger burst of air, or more aspiration, on /p/ than /b/). A child whose parents are L1 Hindi speakers will pick up on this contrast,  Continue Reading →

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Why teaching Second Language listening is difficult and how to use bottom-up listening strategies to teach listening more effectively

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Listening is the skill that most of our students feel the least confident about and the least control over in terms of what they can do to improve. It is also the skill that is the most widely used, both in academic and non-academic contexts. For these reasons, we owe it to our students to show them how to become successful English language listeners.

Second-language listening is difficult for several reasons, most of which stem from the differences between oral and written channels (Brown, 2011). These include perception problems, issues of memory and attention, and strategy choice.

Perception problems arise because speech is fast and transient; utterances are spoken quickly, and they disappear. We don’t pause to separate speech into distinct words;  Continue Reading →

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