Saturday, November 26, 2016

How to Correct Student Essays

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Essays are known to be the most widely used assessment of learning before multiple-choice tests were invented. Students are expected to exhibit learning by detailing answers to questions in prose.
How to Correct Student Essays
Even today, in the presence of exam types that are easier to check and grade, teachers still consider essay as one of the most reliable assessments of student learning.

Essay as a Significant Academic Measurement 
Essays have long been utilized to test students’ knowledge of a subject. This is because essays require students to exert effort and dig for deeper understanding to produce a sound answer to a prompt. In contrast with multiple-choice exams, students must make use of adequate set information to answer questions rather than just recalling or associating them with given choices. As support and proof are needed to justify answers, it also makes use of students’ schema. In addition, essays help teachers assess students’ ability to think critically.

Student Suffering from Writer's Block
Student Suffering from Writer's Block Essay as a Significant Academic Measurement
As essays leave room for expression of views, it is a good method to recognize the complexity of thought processes. Lastly, with writing a skill expected from almost all educated persons, essays challenge students to express their views in a grammatically and beautifully intertwined use of language.

Correcting Essays: Tips for Teachers 
Evaluating students' writing is one of the most challenging tasks a language teacher may face. Essays are helpful in challenging students to express views on a given subject and should not be graded based on any general system. Other than just purely assigning numbers or letters for grades, essays are supposedly assessed with greater understanding that students differ in their efforts and accomplishments.
Correcting Essays: Tips for Teachers
The following are the tips on how to correct student essays effectively.
  1. Read essays at least twice. When correcting essays, do not start grading the first time you read. It is best to scan first to understand the ideas the student wanted to convey. Upon getting the gist of the student’s work, it is easier to assess which parts of your performance expectations were met. The second time you read is the stage when you can start identifying communication failure in the composition. Often, what we feel was expressed by the student isn’t exactly what they mean to tell us. As a result, correcting students’ writing after the first time you read may result in mistakes in understanding what was meant, leading to improperly grading them afterward.
  2. Cover student’s name. Often times, we tend to be quite considerate when correcting or grading essays based on a student’s attitude in our classes. We can’t deny the fact that some students create good impressions and some don’t. When grading tests that do not require us to follow a specific list of right or wrong answers, we may be bias in correcting. To avoid this, it is best to fold the upper part of the essays to conceal the identity of the writers. Sometimes, teachers can even assign a number to a specific student in place of a name on the paper. With this, we can correct essays objectively and thus grade them fairly.
  3. Make use of rubrics. Recent development in education has paved way to grading designs for more subjective tests. In correcting student essays, it is best to grade and correct according to a specific standard. Because it separates and defines different performance levels expected from student output, rubrics aid teachers in giving precise ratings.

    Make use of rubrics
  4. When dealing with linguistically advanced students, a standardized rubric like those of SAT or TOEFL can be utilized. It is best, however, that a teacher designs rubrics for specific class or tasks. Remember that if the purpose of the essay is to describe, the focus of corrections will be on descriptions. Modify your rubrics to fit every kind of composition requirement with different expectations.
  5. Use editing marks. When assessing essays, do not attempt to write all your corrections and color your student paper with red marks. Studies say that students do not generally learn when they are bombarded with what they have done wrong. Additionally, marking every part of the essay takes too much of a teacher’s time. Avoid the temptation of proofreading your students’ essays for all types of errors.

    Use editing marks

    At the beginning of a term in your composition classes, it is advised that editing marks be introduced to students. This will make students discover for themselves the kind of mistakes committed and how to possibly correct them. Consequently, this can foster peer editing.
  6. Take note of students’ mistakes. Grading the papers after you have corrected them isn’t the last thing to do. A more conscientious teacher takes note of students’ most common mistakes. This list of things that challenges students can be taken up in class the next day. By starting with the errors, students will understand further why such mistake is committed. Alternately, the teacher must provide explanations on why some constructions are considered errors and what can students do to remedy them.

    Take note of students’ mistakes

    When a particular student commits the most mistakes at all times, the teacher should make the student consult, or have an assistant to help developing acceptable compositions. Keeping track of student’s mistakes can help teachers identify who among the class members needed extra attention and assistance.
  7. Include an end note. For a more traditional teacher, this might mean comments on the over-all writing performance of the student. For a more responsive one, this means formative comments. When correcting students’ essays, give honest and constructive comments by focusing on what was successfully applied or how much effort was visible in the composition. When end notes are non-offensive to students, they will serve as guides for achieving expectations. This gives them clear ideas on why a certain part is considered less acceptable and how they can do better. Be sure that end notes should serve as instruction not as a grading justification. To motivate your students, emphasize on what was accomplished rather than what was missed, and offer suggestions on how to improve their work.

    Include an end note

    Focus on what the students did right.
  8. Return assignments promptly. Marking and commenting on essays is crucial, but teachers have to return students’ essays promptly. When students still have the enthusiasm on the result of tasks, they are eager to know how they performed. Return students’ work and be sure to review the points most of them failed to follow. Provide examples that contrast both acceptable and less acceptable alternatives. When students have their essays on hand, it is easier for them to clarify the markings and the possible remedies.

    Return assignments promptly

    As you go along, students can identify their own mistakes and will find it easier to relate to the review of points. Consequently, they can take notes next to your markings and thus have lesser chances of committing the same mistake when doing the next task.
It is perhaps challenging to correct and grade essays on any course or discipline. Assignments have different goals and expectations. Generally, no matter how divergent a student’s response is to the prompt, it is still worth some points, unless it is proven to have been plagiarized. Remember that students’ efforts deserve merits.
Quite different from other types of tests, essays demand the teacher’s full attention to make sure that they are graded based on a standard set. It also requires teachers extra time to read, re-read, assess, and correct. Because this type of evaluation has long been considered subjective, many would think that grading might be based on how good a student’s image is to the teacher.

teachers are to practice being unbiased by concealing identities until after grading the papers. It is expected that compositions are to be graded based on a rubric which include style, ideas, organization and so on

Since it is quite tempting to look at the names of the writers while reading a very interesting or frustrating composition, teachers are to practice being unbiased by concealing identities until after grading the papers. It is expected that compositions are to be graded based on a rubric which include style, ideas, organization and so on.

Writing grades do not end the teacher’s role in developing students’ ability to write essays as they are expected to provide end notes, review points or monitor students’ progress individually. As a complex skill, writing an essay requires schema from many other subjects learned, and a responsive teacher can direct students on how to make use of these knowledge by expressing them in a logically accepted form.

How to Use Storytelling in Language Teaching

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Offering natural and ideal listening materials, storytelling in language classes is an effective tool which provides learners with necessary useful contexts. Considered one of the oldest techniques language teachers use, it continues to garnish language learning with colorful and interesting materials students enjoy the most. Naturally, language teachers and even parents have their own distinct styles which educators continually improve.
language teachers and even parents have their own distinct styles which educators continually improve
Ways of making the audience more captive to lessons is one thing teachers work on throughout their careers.

What is storytelling?
Storytelling is an art of using colorful words with some actions to reveal the elements of a story. Often done to bring joy and enjoyment, it subliminally gives wisdom to the audience. Stories often contain morals and a lesson for readers to learn. Since the use of images and actions are limited, storytelling compels the listeners to create their own mental image and expand on their interpretation of the topic. With the enjoyment it brings, retention of the message is enhanced.
What is storytelling?
Storytelling is an interactive art as it involves both the listeners and the storyteller. The way stories are told and the actions and facial expressions used by the storyteller enhance the story. Often involvement from the audience in encouraged, and it serves as a great opportunity for working on new vocabulary. It also takes many forms and inspired by daily activities that can teach lessons through the use of an easily understood sentence structures. Culturally speaking, it has been utilized to educate the young on the values of a social group they are in with the expectations that those shall be carried on to younger generations.

Why use storytelling
The use of storytelling in language teaching is an effective way of exposing students to the target language. It is an essential tool in conveying messages to students of diverse interests. Considered the oldest education practice, it has made passing of beliefs, traditions and appreciation of history to generations possible.
Why use storytelling
Here are some points supporting the use of storytelling in language classes:

1)  Can be integrated in the curriculum
With many subjects taught best by elaborating on examples, storytelling is an effective way to teach variety topics. Though mainly considered an essential part of language curriculum, storytelling can actually be used in teaching history, society, and the arts. Listening to stories helps inculcate values in the students’ minds, helping them become even more motivated, driven and inspired to achieve things by learning from the mistakes and victories of the characters.
Students Listening Attentivelty During a Language Class Listening Activity
Students Listening Attentivelty During a Language Class Listening Activity
Simple listing of information lessens the processing time for understanding of the general ideas, but storytelling makes information easily remembered. Storytelling in language teaching simulates real use of words and phrases.
2)  Caters to students of diverse backgrounds
Since storytelling is present in almost all cultures at any given time, it can help bridge cultural gaps in a diverse classroom. It also teaches cultural sensitivity by developing the students’ knowledge of their social roles and expectations. Telling stories from countries where your student came from creates awareness, deeper understanding, and appreciation of their differences. When students have deeper understanding of their individual backgrounds, creating a cooperative classroom with diverse cultures can be made easy.
Caters to students of diverse backgrounds
With cultural knowledge, it is easier to foster understanding on what was actually meant by a student during discussions as some cultures are direct but some indirect.
3)  Fosters understanding of the humankind
In the age of technology, economic race, and self-sufficiency, storytelling can help students understand the true essence of the human experience. Characters in the story are excellent sources of lessons for learning and building desirable behaviors and character a person needed in order to live fuller life. With the listeners’ emotional involvement, it can be utilized to teach not just language but the practices of a culture where that language is used.
Fosters understanding of the humankind
It exposes students to the kind of language use in a certain territory.
4)  Helps enhance listening skills
An interesting story keeps the students hooked. As they are eager to know the next part of the story, they do not only develop concentration but also sharpens listening skill. It helps students associate listening with getting information and understanding of the over-all contexts of stories.
Helps enhance listening skills
Since listening is considered an essential language skill that facilitates learning, storytelling opens the students’ perspective on the act and widens their opportunity to maximize learning.
5)  Improves imagination
Listening to stories stimulates thought processes. When teachers make use of storytelling, students are challenged to draw conclusions by creating images for characters as they are presented in the story. Judgment and inferences can often be based on the learners’ experiences, so they are likely to interpret stories by making use of their realities.
Improves imagination
Telling a story enables the listener to immerse himself into the plot and start seeing things from the perspective of the character. This helps them develop imagination on both life and linguistic experiences.
Make Storytelling Engaging: Creative Ways to Follow
Storytelling in classroomIt can never be denied that despite being in a language classroom, some students, especially younger ones, lack motivation to learn. Most find no meaning in acquiring a new language and eventually become non-achieving. The teacher then is tasked to critically choose stories that will not only encourage listening but language learning. When interest in a topic is aroused, attitudes towards learning the language are changed, making it enjoyable, meaningful and comprehensible to students.
Follow these steps to make storytelling more engaging for students:
1)  Choose the right material
Even a veteran storyteller needs to upgrade to new techniques, and eventually new materials that fit the interest of this generation. There is no generic formula of what is the perfect material for storytelling as it should be chosen based on the needs and interests of the audience. In most cases, we choose materials that we personally treasured and loved to listen to as kids. This would generally include fairy tales and folklore.
Choose the right material
With the availability of fresh story books in the market, teachers are provided with many choices. When these materials don’t seem to fit the kind of audience in class, giving old stories a fresh approach can do the job. Try modifying some elements of the story you love without dropping its original message. Better yet, ask students what they wanted to listen to for the storytelling sessions by making storybooks available in the classroom.
2)  Characterize the content
Bringing the characters in the story to life makes storytelling fun as it enables the audience to see, feel, and hear exactly what the character wanted them to. Remember that without emotion, stories become basically dead. It is then important that the teacher knows the stories by heart. When the teacher knows the content of the story and the message embedded in it, it is easier to characterize. Read and internalize the characters and practice them even just in front the mirror. Convey how the characters feel by making use of body language, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
Characterize the content
When the character is angry, make the audience see and hear it. Know when to shift actions and voice to help the audience distinguish between characters. Making your content interesting help foster your students’ interest in the language.
3)  Maximize opportunities for literacy
Even the most reluctant reader or learner can be motivated to listen to an interesting story. Considered as one of the ways to address literacy, storytelling helps develop students’ competencies in all areas of the language by modeling oral skills, writing, and comprehension. Storytelling exposes the students to reading and listening, and post-storytelling activities help develop speaking and writing. Teachers who utilize storytelling should choose materials that fit the needs of the students and of the curriculum.
Maximize opportunities for literacy and use flashcards to drive vocabulary home to your students
These stories should provide variety of messages, often with pictures or flash cards, to help get the message across to solicit students’ attention. Storytelling is one effective method in transporting students back in time and history. This helps shape the way they see the world.
4)  Use props
As most children learn through visual representations, using props in storytelling sessions foster deeper understanding and appreciation of materials. Props help liven up the lines and hook the students making them concentrate more. Handy props are the most popular to use in classrooms. This can range from flowers, ball, doll, or a piece of cloth. The use of props in storytelling extends a child's attention span and increases their learning experiences.
Use props
Additionally, it makes lessons less boring and easy to remember. It is best to know, though, that props should be minimized to a level not distracting to students. When there is too much of them, students may be tempted to focus on them rather than to the story the teacher reads. The most widely used props are those that generate sounds for effect at a certain part of the story.
5)  Involve the students
As storytelling relies on the collaboration of both the teller and the audience, it is best practiced with student participation. Tell story the way that excites students to talk and interact. Involving students can be as simple as making them repeat some lines you wanted to emphasize. Alternately, you can check students’ comprehension by asking them to act out some parts of the story. For younger learners, this can even be done by animal sound reproductions. After telling the story, the teacher can ask students for the possible ending or solicit questions for other class members to answer.
Involve the students
Some students can even be assigned to alternately serve as co-tellers in the beginning of the storytelling sessions. For more advanced students, retelling the story in front of the class the next day can be practiced. Involving students in lessons do not only develop their cognitive skills but enhances confidence in speaking and motivation to learn.

Students’ experiences are best molded with descriptive and language skills development. When students enjoy learning, they are not only creating a collection of knowledge but are constantly looking for ways to know things that interest them. With their curiosity for learning comes their perspective of the world. Studies reveal that storytelling is an effective way for increasing the literacy level. This is because it enhances all the language skills- reading, listening, speaking and writing- all in one. Because storytelling is participatory in nature, students have greater exposure to language use.
Storytelling provides an environment of rich linguistic and cultural learning. For children, it serves as a meaningful way of modeling language use. In fact, most of early education curriculum focuses more on story-based lessons. When materials are properly chosen and with teachers equipped with skills to convey stories in a more engaging and interesting ways, meeting the objectives of literacy programs are easily achieved. Being able to facilitate development in comprehension, storytelling is a great way to start teaching language students to construct meanings.

Benefits of Using Graphic Organizers in the Classroom

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Using graphic organizers in the classroom aides teachers in making concepts easier to grasp to students about topics they need to study. Education in the 21st century made learning even more fun with the integration of new study techniques. Instead of traditional note-taking, students are now able to study using visuals like diagrams or webs. With many students falling under the category of visual learners, graphic organizers play an essential role in the classroom. Considered as one of the most effective strategies for teaching and learning, graphic organizers can be used in many different areas of the curriculum. This is because it enables broad topics to be easily broken down into specifics.

What is a graphic organizer?
Graphic organizers are tools used to show connections between concepts. A spatial arrangement of ideas, it helps learners reduce broad topics into more specific and easier concepts. Also known as concept maps or diagrams, it serves as a visual aid to facilitate comprehension and connection between concepts. It helps facilitate understanding by providing a semantic association between ideas or thoughts, making the learner able to visualize ideas. Since these tools can be used in many areas of study, it is helpful to students of all age groups.

Types of Graphic Organizers
Basically, graphic organizers used in the classroom organize ideas into concepts, sequence, dates or groups. Since it is constructed mostly from ideas contributed by the students, recalling information is simple. The most popular types of these learning tools are the web, map, plots, and Venn diagram.
1. Web - This is usually utilized to give definitions, examples or list of related ideas:
Web Organizer
2. Map - This is generally used to show the sequence of events, relate characteristics, classifications, similarities, and descriptions:
Map Organizer
3. Chart - This is commonly used to illustrate cause and effect, enumerate characteristics or descriptions and identify parts of a broader topic:
Chart Organizer
4. Venn Diagram - This is used to compare and contrast attributes of two things:
Venn Diagram

Benefits of Graphic Organizers
Here are the top five reasons graphic organizers are beneficial in the classroom:
1. Engaging for learners. According to recent studies, students learn more when the stimulus is visual. With majority of students considered visual learners, making use of graphic organizers help put together thoughts. Since there are several types to choose from, students won’t get tired of learning a variety of content.
Engaging for learners
In addition to attractive designs, graphic organizers offer the chance to complete tasks hands-on. This enables them to break down abstract concepts into simpler ones, making classifications and communication even less challenging. As they get themselves familiar with this educational design, they can function independently after several teacher-guided activities.
Aid the thinking process2. Aid the thinking process. When students are in charge of organizing information, they do not only develop skills in establishing relationships between concepts but are also giving brains a stretch. When expose to different types of graphic organizers, they devise ways to attack the demands of the task at hand. As they deepen understanding of concepts, lessons are internalized, making it a part of schema. As ideas are visually represented, brainstorming is made easier. Additionally, as students take an active role in processing information, it gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and discover their preferred learning style.
3. Improves comprehension. Truly, “a picture paints a thousand words” as even the most complicated idea can be broken down into simpler ones by simple illustrations. Textbooks used in the basic education level have a lot of pictures because imagery enhances understanding. As effective study guides, graphic organizers provide students with general overview of the topics they study, their patterns, and the facts related to the concept being discussed in the classroom.

Improves comprehension
This can enhance understanding and memorizing. In reading classes, comprehension can be out of reach as words may be too difficult, or sentences are complex. With this, students find it hard to figure out how each part completes the others and vice versa. This problem is, fortunately, addressed by graphic organizers.
4. Foster retention. The human mind stores and organizes information learned. When ideas are understood, it is easily retained in the mind, making it accessible for use when needed. With graphic organizers providing the visuals for a mental storage, remembering is supported and critical thinking skills are developed as sets of retained information are assimilated. As they visualize what was learned, manipulation of ideas that made up the schema is easy.
Foster retention
This in turn will aid them in expressing thoughts into words. Spatial learning tools are known to provide opportunities for extracting and remembering information. Graphic organizers are considered a type of scaffolding for learners to establish relationship between what was previously learned and the new materials being studied.
5. Helps improve achievement. In 2007, a study by Anne Ford mentioned that “learning disabilities cannot be cured, but they can be treated successfully” as she saw the role played by graphic organizers in improving the achievement level of students with learning disabilities. Further, other studies suggest that the demand for students to master so much information about subject areas hinders the achievements of even the average student. Because students, both regular and those with learning difficulties, are participants in finding connections between concepts, facilitation of knowledge acquisition was improved.
 Helps improve achievement
In a study conducted by Barron and Stone, it was presented that those learners with exposure to graphic organizers as study aids were able to manipulate test on vocabulary with ease. Additionally, it stated that graphic organizers are facilitative when students trained to use them were to apply what was learned from explicit instructions.

Lines, charts, maps, or webs that represent ideas may look elementary at first glance, but graphic organizers provide frameworks for connecting new ideas with schema. There are compelling reasons why using graphic organizers in the classroom is beneficial. First, it makes materials easier to comprehend and remembered than when lessons are just dictated or copied. It makes ideas more specific, giving the students a chance to grasp concepts at their level of understanding. When they are able to keep a clear mental picture of the topic discussed, it aids them in explaining what they have mastered orally.
graphic organizers provide frameworks for connecting new ideas with schema
Second, visual representations of topics are powerful ways to assist learners in understanding. As the exposure to many types of graphic organizers continues, students can exhibit the depth of their understating of a topic by the complexity of relationships or connections illustrated on their versions of the visual learning aid. Third, it trains students to make use of strategies that fit their learning preferences. When they master patterns of breaking down ideas and establishing connections, thinking is enhanced and learning is made possible no matter how difficult a concept is. Additionally, the quality and creativity of the student-made graphic organizers can indicate how well the student grasps the ideas of learning, indicating how much potential is present.

ESL Classroom Strategies That Compel Students to Communicate

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Introduction: Aiming for Bilingualism

Bilingual Stop signOver the past decades, many countries have started to encourage citizens to adapt another language and become bilinguals, or better yet, multilingual. With this popularity of language learning, experts in English as a second language have never halted seeking for plans and designs that would ensure effective language acquisition among those who learn. For the majority of the language learners and proponents, learning to communicate in languages other than their mother tongue helps achieve progress on any chosen endeavor. Because English is the most prominent of all languages being learned, it is considered international and is often spoken in the business world.
Learning English is a complicated process. It covers four major skills namely:
  • listening
  • speaking
  • writing
  • reading
Language Ability and Success
Speak EnglishIn the field of language teaching, achieving fluency and accuracy in one’s speech is the aim. It also means that being able to communicate what one means by production of sounds is an essential part of success academically or in life. Speaking and the role it plays in learning English are imperative to one’s accomplishments. Like learning other languages, the ability to speak and convey intended meaning is of utmost importance. Looking at the records of language teaching techniques, it is clear that many educators have put more emphasis on learning how to speak above the three other language skills. The number of people devoting much time and effort learning to speak English is important evidence that it is crucial to one’s achievement in school, the workplace and the competitive world.

Interdependence of First and Second Language
The 1986 research conducted by Cummins and Swain construed that there is a strong interdependence between L1 and L2 in bilingual education. This interdependence is rooted on the fact that the first language plays an important part in learning a second language successfully. Strengthening skills in the first language is also somehow dependent on one’s ability in the second language. It has been emphasized that competence in the language used in school is important in developing academic skills and comprehension of content presented in that medium. The classroom, then, is a melting pot of developing competitiveness in the second language. With exposure to linguistic activities, students are able to improve processing and discriminating input in English. Equally important, beginners in the language tend to translate ideas first as they can’t think in the target language directly. This is quite different from what many traditional teachers expect from them. It is helpful to understand that for many who are approaching fluency and advancement in the language, code switching or translation is essential in comprehension.

Dictionary learnCompelling Strategies
Activities in the classroom open opportunities for class members to communicate. It is through this that many teachers devote much time in designing techniques that would cater to developing the speaking skills and the participation of the students. When students face situations that demand participation or relates to interests, class members are likely to take their part in the process. Strategies and activities serve as a springboard of group sessions in the ESL classrooms. Because they are supposed to serve their purpose in developing fluent speakers, they must be properly observed and effectively practiced. The following are the most popular strategies employed in the ESL classrooms to compel students to communicate:

1)  Functional Language Exposure
Often not given enough emphasis, functional or real language exposure is found to be most effective in compelling students to communicate in the target language. Because of its scope and demand, many schools may have shied away from implementing this strategy that includes the whole academic community. Success of its implementation actually demands the active engagement of the teachers, the administration and the students themselves. In many instances, students claim that they did not speak English inside the school premises because they do not find the need for it. For others, unwillingness to try can be a factor. Younger students are not as intrinsically motivated to speak in English as the adults are. Additionally, some students may consider English as an ordinary everyday language employed by people around them. Sadly, a number of students think that there is no relevance in talking to their teacher in English and thus will never be accustomed to it.
English class teacherAs most teachers wish to develop their students proficiency in the language, they may employ the rule on speaking and transacting business with them in English. As an influential factor in the academic life, teachers can be role models and leading the way maximizes the chance to become fluent. In 1993, research by Green claimed that a sensitive teacher is able to generate and sustain the desire to learn the language even with poorly motivated learners. Additionally, the implementation of the “English Zones” pushes students to speak in the target language to keep up with those around them or to avoid getting fined. When school zones demand communicating in English and are implementing it strictly, students are compelled to adhere to the rules while getting themselves accustomed with the target language.
When communicating in English is observed only in the classroom, it causes confusion and limits the chance to develop communicative competence. Because communication is an essential part of life, students definitely should talk with their peers as much as possible and in varied environments. Making use of this fact to develop language acquisition will establish interest in and among the students. And, because they are exposed to this strategy daily, they are likely to develop willingness to use the target language. The spontaneity in speaking and listening to others will become an essential part in language advancement.

2)  Topical Conversations from Daily News
Newspapers and magazines are rich sources of timely topics that can jump start conversations. They are also fountains of vocabulary and the developments in social linguistic trends. A context-rich medium, they include a variety of topics on literature and issues that students may have opinions about. Usually, reading topics and preparing for conversations about them are assigned as homework and are stated as part of the requirements for passing English subjects. When not forming part of the syllabus, it can be treated as part of enrichment activities for reading and speaking classes. The challenge, however, comes with the students’ willingness to read the headlines regularly.
Reading NewspaperSince periodicals are an authentic material for language learning, it helps students enhance their skills in vocabulary and sentence construction. Often, as students read, they become familiar with the styles employed by writers and may even find some to adapt as their english composition technique. They also serve as a challenge to students’ comprehension and opens doors to learning things they had hardly heard of or known before. As readers, they will develop into students with social consciousness. With the information they get from what they read, students are equipped with knowledge, making them more competent in expressing opinions with confidence.
As language acquisition requires patience and consistent practice, students are to be obliged to learn the language even outside the classroom and communicate using the target language whenever possible. Exposing students to language through journalism helps them develop language processing and acceptance. When it becomes a habit, they will find production of thoughts in the target language natural and normal. Though there is a need to process information through the first language, students are likely to improve language skills through reading newspapers. These skills are writing style, analysis of content, grammar, syntax and expression of ideas through journalistic conventions. Using newspapers and magazines as language sources is beneficial in two ways- reading and background knowledge as prerequisites for speaking.
3)  Oral recitation
Developing communicative competence among students can be done by having oral recitation sessions in the classroom. To be able to score well in this activity, students are to study and recall the important information discussed previously. With this, they develop the habit of reviewing lessons rather than forgetting them after the lecture. When grading recitations include the weight of the answers and the number of times each student has participated, thus, making them prepare for it.
Oral RecitationsPreparations for oral recitations compel the students to review and thus develop their dispositions in academics. Additionally, preparing to perform well in oral recitations exhibit their attitudes towards expressing what they want to say. With their level of motivation and preparation, they are likely to develop the ability to acquire language faster than others. Equally important, when students are bound to prove they can do better in class, part of uplifting status is participating in recitations and nailing the ideas teachers want to hear.
When unprepared, students tend to shy away from recitations, especially those that are graded. Failure to equip one’s self with the needed knowledge to take part in the communicative environment demanded by recitation activities results in students missing the chance to improve both on content areas and the language. When functional output is hindered by the lack of background, students are likely to fail in acquiring language as quickly as their participative peers. Because recitation also requires a quick response to prompts, it challenges both the students’ level of processing and their ability to turn ideas into oral response. Question and answer activities like this also expose the students to many different contexts by which a certain set of vocabulary can be used. It should be noted, however, that willingness to participate in oral recitations, whether voluntary or at teacher’s discretion, depends on the way students perceived themselves as communicators or as class members. This in turn will either develop or hinder their English language acquisition.
4)  Class-based reporting
Often used in content areas like the social sciences, reporting can be utilized to challenge students to make their peers understand ideas by the use of personal communication styles. When given the chance to deliver reports in the target language, students will not only be forced to understand the content of the subject but to master the art of explaining it clearly.
Presenting in classroomBecause good reports are the ones that are delivered in an informal way, students are exposed to authentic practice they can employ outside the classroom. Alternately, the teacher can ask some students to share what they have to say about the topics discussed. Equally important, post-reporting activities may include clarifications or explanations of ideas.
Because speaking in front of the class requires confidence, and also creates unique language learning opportunities. Students must be well-versed in the topics assigned or at its simplest form, memorize what they have to say in class. This improves not only memorization but language processing as well. As questions may be asked by class members, they have to cash in on their background knowledge and linguistic ability to make points clear. With continued practice, students develop self-confidence and competence in speaking in front of the audience, making language learning natural and even enjoyable.

Concluding Points
Teachers are equipped with abilities to make language learning fun and easy for students. With their desire to produce students who are competent language users, various strategies are employed in the classroom. Teachers are important factors in the language learners’ lives. As one of the main sources of linguistic faculity, they are to model the use of language.
Because many people tend to become bilinguals, either because of personal interests or social demands, it is essential that opportunities to communicate are observed. With English being the most widely studied second language, teachers and students can take advantage of English written materials.  Learning English is not only about mastering one skill, but also requires practice in the three others. Though listening, reading and writing are as equally important as speaking, writing is viewed as an excellent starting point in developing fluency quickly.

Photo Memoir as a Writing Assignment

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Pictures Paint a Thousand Words
photography equipmentWriting is considered the most difficult language skill to master, so instilling this interest to ESL students is twice as challenging. With the need to use correct expressions following the standard conventions of grammar and compositions, students whose first language is not English might grasp for words to complete a single sentence expressing what was required to be written. It should be remembered, however, that when topics are directly connected with our interests, it is easier to write.Students are motivated to give their best, expressing thoughts on paper, when they are given the chance to write about something they know deeply or have experienced personally. It is necessary that teachers should devise ways on how to make writing classes engaging. Instead of compelling students to write on generic ideas, make use of significant events in their lives to produce excellent compositions.
For many English as a second language students, writing about their recent trips or picnics are easily accomplished as they have firsthand experience to jot on a page. Celebrations in the family can also be a good inspiration for writing. Additionally, these events can be commemorated by photographs serving as memoirs of significant periods of life. In the same light, photos help people remember details about places they’ve been to, people we shared good moments with, and events that made our lives happier. In other words, they are colorful and powerful narratives that can trigger students’ interests to convert them into powerful lines and stories.

Writing and the Teacher’s Role
Journalist writingThe types of teaching strategies employed in the classroom are manifestations of the teacher’s belief. Articulated or not, they always play an important role in the way the class is carried and led to the achievement of goals. Our beliefs as educators affect our choice of resources, assessment and organization of class activities. No matter how different the beliefs may be, teachers should ensure that writing classes are made fun and interesting.
It should be kept in mind that teachers are the instruments in making students understand that like all language skills, writing follows the same rules on semantics and syntax. There are some important considerations to observe in our writing classes. First, they should provide opportunities for students to brainstorm on ideas through talking or listening before they write. This will help students direct their focus and get the sense for writing. Secondly, writing activities can be linked to reading. This is because articles students are exposed to can be used as models for writing styles, providing definite examples of how information can be arranged or structured according to what was perceived to be significant in the composition. Simply put, it shows students what good writing is like. Third and equally important, it should be part of practice to give students the opportunities to share or choose their source of inspiration for writing compositions.

As ESL writers start to brainstorm ideas for their composition, they should include their peers to add different points of view and ideas to their writing. The topics chosen and the way sentences are crafted to create the desired message do not only show possible potential writers but also gives leeway for class members to learn from less anxiety inducing sources.
The following are the ways to help to inspire writers with the use of photos in class:

1)  Require a Favorite Family or Personal Photo
family photosStudents are to be asked to bring to class their favorite photos or set of photos. With this, it is sure that students picked what they think is the most interesting and, thus, will be able to share views or stories based on them. Remember that visuals are powerful in providing context for any writing pieces and students can easily start writing a topic that sparks their attention or curiosity. Because it was a free choice to bring any picture, perhaps students chose it for being stimulating and attractive. In addition, since it is something they brought from home, they are knowledgeable about the place, time, event and people in captured in print. As students take hold of their favorite photo, ask them to look for details they may want to use as the main idea for writing. Prompt them to look for something interesting or funny, to spot things that are colorful, or to describe shapes or facial expressions.
Consequently, you can ask class members to swap photos with a friend. When students bring in pictures for class, they may not only find pleasure looking at their memorable smiles or travels but they might also provide themselves with writing ideas they never knew possible. To add more challenge to this, ask students to swap pictures with their peers. Doing this will test how well they think of main ideas as they may not know the people in the pictures, or the place and time they were taken. This, however, will develop their skills in writing conventions and objectivity in compositions.

2)  Scaffold Ideas About the Photo
confused businessman making notesStudents asking teachers for translation, vocabulary or possible main ideas is a typical scene in ESL writing classes. With students having the ideas as inspired by their photos, the challenge comes with decoding the message in the pictures and converting them into excellent write-ups. As a teacher, being able to provide the correct information for the student is fulfilling yet tiring. Despite its difficulty, it should be noted that students must exert twice or thrice the effort to express what they want to say. Scaffolding is a helpful strategy in writing classes as it helps break up complex tasks into smaller, simpler pieces of information. Additionally, it gives teachers the chance to intervene with the students’ work and lessen, if not totally eliminate, misunderstanding of concepts and difficulties in following formal writing conventions. Because second language learners may not have enough knowledge of the topics or the rules, they are facing the trial of getting into the unknown. No matter how simple rules or words may be, this isn’t the case for many ESL students, especially those who are beginners or approaching intermediate levels. Typically, they have limited ideas on how writing should be like, how it should be organized, or how to make writings understandable to readers. When left on their own, they are bound to miss the standards. With your students holding their favorite picture, take time to ask them what they can see and which would they want to write about or would like others to know.

3)  Building Vocabulary List From Pictures
vocabularyThey said that a good mechanic always has his toolbox full of essential tools. Writers have the need for this toolbox in the form of vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar. Some tools are used more frequently than others, but the box is to be filled with new ones regularly. Writers need to make use of the tools in the box to make writing more powerful and compelling. This is where the need for vocabulary comes in. Students can never write with limited set of words, and with the teacher’s help, this can be augmented. With the picture in hand, struggling students can be supported while helping them think. Teachers can ask questions like the 5ws (what, when, where, why, who) and the 1h (how) to help find words for the sentences. Instead of readily providing the student with words, they can be asked for the names, shapes, color or location of things found on the photo. As they arrive at answers, make them create a list, so there are words to be included in their writings. You can also require students to bring dictionary with words from their native language to English or the other way around. As they progress on their vocabulary work, encourage them to use only the English dictionary. Because ESL students tend to choose the more difficult synonym of a word, they might convey different meanings. This is where teachers can now explain the importance of correct choice of words.

4)  Compare and Contrast People or Things in the Picture
Venn DiagramPerhaps one of the most interesting challenges for students in writing classes is the task to find what they think are the differences among the subjects of the photo. If students find it difficult to choose ideas for their writing, ask them to find at least five or ten differences among people or things in the picture. If they are the owner of the photos, they might as well be triggered to look closely as they know the people or things in the image. This activity will help your students develop accuracy in descriptions and make use of the vocabulary they listed. Alternately, when there are limited elements to contrast, you can let them compare. This is where they can make use of descriptions like colors, shapes, sizes, actions, directions and so on. When the students are able to do the first two tasks with ease, challenge them to compare and contrast elements in a single write-up. Making students do these exercises will help develop the ability to analyze likeness and differences while keeping in mind that one description can’t go without the other. To make even easier for students, encourage them to make use of a graphic organizer like a Venn diagram to visualize and organize ideas more clearly.

5)  Expressing Conditions Based on the Picture
Flip flops on the beachYes, pictures can be used to help students find good writing ideas and to review them on grammar rules. Another way in making students produce good compositions is to use pictures as a springboard for main ideas. Instead of asking them to just describe it plainly, you can trigger their imagination by giving them prompts like, “If I were here…” or asking them questions like, “What would you be doing if you were/weren’t in the scene?” As students are holding on to their favorite photo of landscape, park, party or overseas travel, they would think of possibilities and would be compelled to imagine what’s otherwise. Equally important, they would be pushed onto making sentences expressing conditions, making use of their prior knowledge from grammar lectures. Additionally, asking students to come up with ideas opposite to what they can see directly will enhance their imagination- a very important skill in creating great compositions. 

Concluding Ideas
There is no doubt that pictures play an important part in second language teaching. This is especially beneficial when dealing with beginners or lower level students. Despite its known advantages, many instructors have not utilized this strategy in their writing classes. In getting inspirations for writing, purely reading texts can be uninspiring or complicated. Additionally, photos motivate students even before they would start writing initial ideas. It should not be forgotten that photos, whether printed or digital, are tremendously a convenient and useful tool for writing classes.

Using pictures in the class can be a good start for ESL students who are not yet skilled in writing. Choosing photos from one’s pool of favorite images at home even allow students to look back at the most interesting part of life, thus, making it easier to think of what’s to write. Because they know the background information of the photos they will have to write about, problems happen minimally. Most importantly, students will find enjoyment writing what they feel about something.

Criterion Referenced Test in the Classroom: 5 Ways to Use Them

*** This article I have written some years ago was originally published here. 

Young Student intently taking notes

The Need for Testing: 

Knowing the factors that affect the learning level of every student is important in providing the right type of lessons. To identify the things that stand along the way to successful learning, testing is necessary. Perhaps, the most widely known test among parents of early education pupils is the intelligence test. Most commonly used, they are intended to identify specific learning disabilities that may hinder learning. Additionally, tests for students are administered to help eliminate and lower problems that come along with the students’ cognitive difficulties. Another important factor is that classrooms with the most common testing area help in the identification of class members who are underachieving and may help them better develop with the aid of remediation or tutorials.
Developmental tests most commonly administered to first graders are used to give hints on the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Speech tests are also used to assess the type of intervention needed for those that suffer from speech difficulty. Inventories on the behavior of school children as given by the school counselors help teachers design their classroom management strategies. In addition, tests that measure abilities are intended to identify students who are gifted so they can be properly provided with enrichment activities.
Tests have long been utilized to uncover reasons students perform well or poorly in class. Despite the kind of reputation it has, a test helps the teacher in assisting the child to develop their full potentials.

Understanding Criterion Referenced Test 
Girl in driving schoolOtherwise known as CRT, criterion referenced tests are designed to measure how well students have learned a certain body of knowledge or subject and the skills associated with such. In everyday situations, the most common examples of this test can be the multiple choice exams people take when they apply for a driver’s license. This means that in order to pass, they must know, to a certain degree, things that deal with the specific subject which is driving. Academically, it is a type of test that measures how well a student has learned a material taught in a certain school year or semester.
CRT in mathematics includes questions that are supposed to have been taught during one’s arithmetic class. The test does not include items that aren’t a part of the course syllabus for a certain term. When learned well, most students could pass the exams and be given a certain point considered a “pass” mark.
A standardized CRT sets a cut-off point as agreed upon by a set of experts on the subject area. In contrast, those that are used in the classroom have the passing point set by the teacher. It should be made understood, then decided by a committee or the subject teacher alone. The passing limits are often decided subjectively. Commonly, when the subject matter takes part in licensure exams students must take after graduation, passing marks are set at 50 to 75 percent of the total number of items. This is done to ensure that class members have retained as much information as their professions or endeavors demand.
Experts have defined CRT as a relative value signifying one’s performance placed against a standard. They also agreed on the fact that most of the quizzes students take in school are criterion referenced in nature. It is considered as the easiest way to know if students have learned the materials or subjects taught.

Advantages of CRT
Boy Student taking a testCriterion referenced tests in the classroom (when well prepared and aligned with the subject’s goals), help teachers identify points where students need extra assistance or review. CRT sees how students performed against the standard, comparing them to themselves alone, not with peers. This brings many advantages such as:
  • A classroom-based CRT enables the teacher to exactly point students’ weaknesses. Making test result as a jump off point, teachers can now see easily which part of the lecture or lesson needs more elaboration. When giving a test on verbs for example, the teacher whose students scored lower in irregular verbs indicates that a remedial session on the topic is needed. CRT in short gives teachers the exact point the students are having a hard time with.
  • Also, since students’ learning is measured against the standard or their previous academic performance, CRT makes it easier for the teacher to track individual progress. For example, a diagnostic test given at the beginning of the term can serve as a guide as to where the class should start and how broad are the students’ knowledge on the subject. Towards the end of the term, the goal of having students to master the areas of knowledge taking part in the subject studied has to be determined. When a CRT achievement test was administered at the end of the semester and a certain student gets the score of 89 percent, a big leap from that of the diagnostic test of 30 percent, it is clear that the student has prospered in the level of knowledge he or she has on the subject matter.
  • Lastly, CRTs are helpful in building self-esteem. This is because students’ performance is measured against their own and not with others, paving way to wider opportunities of scoring higher that they previously did. Since no two students are alike, the use of CRTs in classrooms can help meet individual needs for instruction and remediation, helping students discover what they have achieved, and develop higher learning skills.
The following are the ways to use CRT in the classroom:
1. Set goals clearly at the beginning of a topic.
Experts agree that setting goals and making students understand them before starting a new lesson help them understand the purpose of the activities. Goals and lesson objectives provide students with the idea map as to where topics are headed. This, in turn, helps them condition their thoughts and work their way to achieving the standard set. If the goal of the lesson about adjectives using three or more descriptive words when constructing a single sentence, the assessment or test at the end of the lesson must measure this condition. If majority of the students scored lower than what was expected, the lesson has to be re-taught.
2. Make tests less threatening.
Tests are often associated with causes of student anxiety and possible negative reinforcements. This, however; can be designed in a way every class member will deem it as a method to assess their learning. Before giving tests, inform students that it is intended to measure how well they have retained information from previous lessons, not a basis for punishments. When students are positive about test taking, they tend to do better and concentrate more. This makes them function better than when stressed with what penalties await them. Additionally, tests can be integrated into everyday lessons to make it part of the routine. Equally essential, frequent yet shorter tests are less demanding for students, so they can study the important points longer than chapter tests. It should be remembered that tests are to be given for the purpose of identifying weaknesses or lessons that are less understood, and not as a method for identifying those that deserve punishments. When teachers are able to identify the points by which students fall short, it is easier to design review lessons and bridge topics.
3. Set limits on test coverage.
Perhaps the most common mistake teachers can commit is going beyond what the students have mastered so far. When this happens, setting a valid standard can be difficult if not impossible. Educators have to make sure they construct tests that are focused on a certain area of knowledge. When giving tests, it is essential to define first the coverage of the assessment and what information on learning is intended to be extracted. For broader topics like nouns, it is wise to categorize the test into parts to master on its usage. Forms and inflection can be clearly seen as teachers mark and record scores of the papers. Remember not to go beyond what the topic has encompassed.
4. Develop discrimination through multiple choice tests.
Standardized TestConsidered by many students as the easiest, this type of exams cause lesser anxiety and give students hint on the correct choices. This, however; should be made patiently, making sure every item requires the students to think and discriminate choices to arrive at the correct answers. Obviously correct answers, as a result of poor item analysis, defeat the purpose of measuring how much the students have learned from the lessons. Additionally, this enables teachers to design tests that compel students to make intelligent choices, going beyond answering literal questions. Equally important, CRTs of multiple choice design help students develop the ability to use context in understanding test items. In language classes, for example, this can be done by providing choices from which they can choose the one that best completes the sentence patterns.
5. Scaffold knowledge between topics. 
It should be understood that tests are not intended to purely grade students, but instead to assess how much they have progressed from the first lesson to the present. To be able to come up with reliable achievement tests at the end of the term, it is essential that students can link one topic to another. This can be done easily by scaffolding knowledge of the topics one after the other. Simply stated, it is essential to give a review of the previous lessons, especially those items the students have difficulty answering based on the previous assessment. Again, it should be noted that items missed are not intended to be ignored, but rather a point of a future review. As topics of the entire term properly connect with one another, it is easier to design a criterion reference achievement test that covers all topics from the beginning to the last lesson of the term.

Concluding Thoughts 
CRTs are useful for teachers in many ways. Flexible yet focused, CTRs are used for teachers to monitor students’ individual progress based on everyday activities in the classroom. A quick way to measure how much students have learned and mastered the concepts and skills, it is a reliable way to compare class members learning against course objectives. With most of the objectives prescribed by the school system, CRTs in the classroom level help determine how effective the curriculum design is in producing the desired academic results.