Spanish-American Institute



Teaching English in Computer Education



To:  All Faculty and Staff




I.    Course Syllabi 2

II.   Active Teaching. 2

III.  Principles of Good Teaching. 2

IV.  Learning English In Real World Computing Contexts. 3

V.  The DDC Model 4

VI.  Assessing Independent Projects. 5

VII.  Good Testing Practices. 6

VIII.  Faculty Requests for Instructional Support 6
















rev. 08/31/11;  05/24/10; 10/20/09

English-in-Context:  Teaching English in Computer Education is the new title for the former Spanish-American Institute publication, Computer Teacher Orientation: Integrating Language Skills in Computer Education.  While the two texts are essentially the same, the new title better reflects the principles underlying the English language learning purposes for offering non-ESL courses to ESL learners.


Each and every course at the Institute is a language learning class.  The only difference between ESL and non-ESL classes is that ESL classes teach English through conventional ESL materials and practices whereas non-ESL classes teach English in context, in this case the context of computer applications. 


Teachers and students are expected: 

Š         to use only English language in exploring computer applications and

Š         to integrate the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) in their work on a daily basis.


I.                  Course Syllabi


Bound copies of the Institute’s course syllabi are available in the Computer Room, in the Student Room, in the Library, and in other strategic locations throughout the school as well as on the school website.


II.            Active Teaching


Noisy students are certainly not learning very much.  However, quiet students are not necessarily learning much either.  Because a student does not ask a question does not mean that the student understands. Good teaching means actively interacting with individual students each class session to assess that they:



To help students learn, question each student each class about what he or she is doing or has done to determine any need for additional help. Doing so helps students develop critical English language skills through the targeted computer skills within real world contexts.  


III.  Principles of Good Teaching


Computer-based teaching shares principles of good teaching common to all disciplines.  These include:  

1. Respect for Students.  Good teachers assume that students are mature, intelligent people who have something to say, even when not fluent in English. 
2.  Critical Thinking/Higher Order Thinking Skills.  "Thinking" with a language develops neural pathways in the brain.  When students think with or create with language, they begin to make it their own because thinking imprints language patterns in their brains.  The same is true of learning any computer skill.  Students have not “learned” a skill until they have made its patterns and applications their own by using it in a variety of ways, including talking, reading, and writing about it.  


3.  Vocabulary Learned From Context.  When teachers encourage them to do so instead of giving them the answers, most students can figure out the meaning of most words in computer texts from context.  This reinforces an important facet of language learning, inferring meaning from context.     


4. Grammar Learned From Context.  Students also learn grammar from context through practice in reading, writing, speaking, etc.  Only through practice in using the language does the he grammar of any language becomes embedded in the brain, ready to be understood and applied to new situations. 

5.  Active Learning “Safety Nets.”  Good teaching starts with structured activities in which students can practice specific skills, including language skills, without feeling threatened.  Good teaching provides students with “safety nets” that ask students to do only what they have previously learned. 


Most learning is cumulative.  Good teaching means never asking students to do anything for which they have not been prepared through progressively more challenging cumulative activities. 

  1.  Student Questions Are Teachable Moments.  No

question is a dumb question.  However, the teacher should rarely provide the answer.  In student-centered learning, consider questions a teachable moment, an opportunity to guide them through the learning process involved in working through the answer themselves.


7.       Facilitating (Not Giving) Answers.  Instead of

providing the answers, good teachers help students find them by questioning them further, step-by-step if necessary.  This active approach to teaching will not only help students better develop language and critical thinking skills but also help them learn the target computer-based skill.    


Another tip:  If students do not know how to perform a task in the way the textbooks requires, ask them if they know another way to do it.  That will challenge them to think more about the problem.  After they have tried “their” way, have them go back and do it the book’s way. 


IV.  Learning English In Real World Computing Contexts 


The Spanish-American Institute uses instructional materials in all its computer-based courses that help teachers to:


Š         develop students’ English as well as computer skills and

Š         incorporate the principles of good active teaching practice above.


V.  The DDC Model

Where available and current, the Institute uses the DDC series in computer applications courses. 


The DDC series provides an excellent model of active teaching and learning that teachers can use to strengthen students’ English in computer contexts.  Teachers can adapt the DDC model of good teaching to computer-based courses that use titles not in the DDS series as well.


Each DDC lesson contains real-world background reading and activities that move students from simple English and computer skills acquisition to more independent application of these skills “on their own.”


DDC textbooks call units or chapters Lessons.  Each Lesson is divided into several Exercises using several different learning modalities and multiple activities.  Think of Lessons as chapters and Exercises as sequential, cumulative learning activities.  


The DDC material helps teachers to seamlessly integrate language and computer skills using the following activities. 


1.  Skills Covered.”  Each Exercise begins with a list of terms that will be used throughout the Lesson to describe the target skills. 


Using “Skills CoveredFor English Language Learning.   Reassure students that they do not need to understand every word or term used in this list to begin with.  However, make them understand that by the end of each Exercise they should be able to both explain in English and to apply each of the “skills” listed.


2.       On The Job.”  Each Exercise starts with two brief “On the Job” readings that

provide the real-world context for student learning. 


The first reading describes how certain target skills may be used in general job situations.  It uses terms and vocabulary about computer skills learned in the previous chapter(s).  


The second reading directs students to think about how these applications might be applied to a specific job situation.  The specific job situation provides the working context for the student’s succeeding work in the Exercise


Using “On the Job” For English Language Learning.  Go over the reading passages with students, asking them questions about the readings to see how well they understand them.


If students do not understand the vocabulary or context of the readings, it is more than likely that they have not mastered the skills and vocabulary of the preceding Exercise(s).  In this case, return students to the preceding work.  Depending on the situation, ask students to repeat some or all of the preceding work and/or coach them to explain it in English as best they can. 


3.  “Terms.”  “Terms” contains definitions of key words at the start of each Exercise.  These terms are highlighted in the text.  If students do not understand terms highlighted in the text, consider this a teachable moment.


Using “Terms” To Integrate English and Computer Learning.   Instead of explaining the term to students, make them go through the learning process themselves by referring them back to “Terms” and asking them to explain them in their own words. 


4.  “Notes.”  “Notes” describe and outline the computer concepts in each Exercise. 


5.  “Procedures.” “ Procedures” provide hands-on mouse and keyboard practice that teach the target skills.  “Procedures” are always written as directions in the imperative form of the verb (e.g., do this, do that). 


Using “Procedures” For English Language Learning.  Teachers should encourage students to talk about what they are doing, will be doing, or have done in this section.  This interchange will give students practice in change from the imperative form of the verb used in the text to the present, future, or past tense. 


6.  “Application Exercise/Exercise Directions.”  The “Application Exercise” provides step-by-step instructions putting the target skill to work.


Using” Application Exercises” For English Language Learning  See 5, above.


7. On Your Own.”  “On Your Own” is perhaps the most important part of the textbook.  It provides a critical thinking opportunity that challenges students to apply what they have learned to particular problems.  DO NOT LET STUDENTS SKIP THIS SECTION!


Using “On Your Own” For English Language Learning.  Never allow students to skip this activity.  Instead, use it to assess student mastery of the targeted skills through the use of English language reading, writing, listening, and speaking.  For example, ask students to write out their approach to the activity and to explain it orally, step by step.  Also ask them to discuss their approach with one or more other students.  If they have not adequately completed this independent learning task, ask them to repeat earlier learning activities to assure skills mastery before returning to “On Your Own.”  AGAIN, DO NOT LET STUDENTS SKIP THIS SECTION!  MAXIMIZE THE POTENTIAL OF THIS SECTION TO REINFORCE ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING THROUGH APPLICATION TO COMPUTER CONTEXTS!


8.  Critical Thinking Exercise.”  To complete this task, students must have mastered the target computer and language skills.  Like “On Your Own,” use this activity to assess student language and  computer learning and, if needed, return students to previous work.  AGAIN, MAXIMIZE THE POTENTIAL OF THIS SECTION TO REINFORCE ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING THROUGH APPLICATION TO COMPUTER CONTEXTS!



Using “Critical Thinking Exercises” For English Language Learning.  See “On Your Own, above. 


VI.  Assessing Independent Projects 


Most computer-based course syllabi ask students to demonstrate that they have mastered the course’s learning objectives through independent projects such as those found in their textbooks. 


Structure these projects so that students demonstrate language as well as computer skills.  For example, ask students to: 


Š         write a summary of the project,

Š         list the steps that they took to carry out the project,

Š         state the computer skills that they needed to carry out the project,

Š         discuss the challenges they faced in undertaking the project, and

Š         where feasible, present the outcomes of their project before an audience. 

VII.  Good Testing Practices


The Institute expects teachers to follow good testing practices in developing bi-monthly and other exams.  Check if exams. 

The most important testing practice is to test English skills through the balanced distributions of testing questions that require: 

Š         reading (whole passages, not only sentences),

Š         writing (shorter and longer answers),

Š         listening (where feasible), and

Š         speaking (through presentations and/or one-on-one oral questioning by faculty).


In addition, tests should:


Š         correlate to the textbook and other teaching material.

Š         make use of publishers’ testing materials, if any, as well as any additional material you have developed. 

Š         reflect principles of good practice and up-to-date teaching methods


Avoid questionable testing practices like the following: 

1.  Avoid Passive Testing.  For example, do not ask students to define terms.  Instead, ask them to apply the term or concept in a problem. 

2.  Avoid Fill-in-the-Blanks and Multiple Choice Testing.  Tests should rarely if ever ask students to complete sentences by filling in the blanks or to pick a multiple choice answer.  Test questions should involve reading comprehension, language comprehension, and computer based skills applications.  

3.  Avoid Testing at Too Low or Too High a Level.  Tests should challenge students to create at a level consistent with their time spent in the computer-based class and their ESL placement.

VIII.  Faculty Requests for Instructional Support


Faculty Requests for Instructional Support.  The Institute encourages faculty to request other courseware, print material, and/or memberships that help them implement the curriculum and Institute learning objectives.