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Ph.D. Student from Brazil Visits Queen’s to Study Washback​

Flavia in class​Flávia Juliana de Sousa Avelar, a Ph.D. student in applied linguistics at Unicamp in Campinas São Paulo, has come to Queen’s to study washback (the influence of an exam on teaching and learning) with Dr. Liying Cheng

Encouraged by her supervisor at Unicamp, Dr. Matilde Scaramucci, Flávia was awarded a Brazilian government grant to come to Queen’s to attend one of Dr. Cheng’s courses on educational research and to work with her on the data analysis for her dissertation. 

The focus of Flávia’s dissertation is washback in the case of the Brazilian high stakes exam (ENEM) on the teaching English as a foreign language in high schools.  The ENEM exam is a comprehensive exam that includes English as a foreign language.  Brazilian high school teachers are required to teach the curriculum, but this may or may not include exam preparation.  Flávia’s research examines whether teachers prepare students for the exam, and how they integrate exam preparation into the teaching. 

Flávia says that she is examining washback because language teaching and testing is controversial in Brazil. 

English learning and teaching has always been a matter of controversy and concern in Brazil, and people have always questioned the quality of English language teaching in regular schools. That was my initial motivation for this research.

Dr. Cheng’s expertise in washback was Flávia’s motivation for coming to Queen’s and, clearly, she hasn’t been disappointed.  In addition to her classes and regular meetings about her research, Dr. Cheng has taken her under her wing and helping her adjust to living in Canada.

Dr. Cheng asks me how I am doing every week, which is very kind of her.

Flávia expressed some surprise about the warm welcome she received when she arrived in Kingston at the end of August from a variety of people at Queen’s: she mentioned her classmates, faculty and staff at the Faculty of Education, the School of Graduate Studies and the Queen’s University International Centre. 

It was a nice surprise the way everyone is open to receive people.  We Brazilians are known as being very welcoming, but I was surprised by the way Canadians are so welcoming and make us feel right at home.   The weather is not surprising, people are prepared for that.

Flávia also noted that she was surprised by the academic diversity in her classes.

The way graduate students work together in classes is similar to graduate studies in Brazil.  I was a bit surprised by the diversity of academic backgrounds and research interests in my classes. We also have people from different faculties at Queen’s and professions.  That makes it especially rich because we can learn about different areas and research, as share your own.

When asked about her advice for future students, Flávia suggested that they arrive a week or two in advance of classes to get acquainted with the university and the city.

Give yourself some time to settle in because there are so many things happening at the university before classes. There are special meetings for international students and it’s important to take part in them to get to know where you are. 

Thanks to Flávia for sharing her experience and, once again, a warm welcome to Queen’s!

Flavia with her classmates