It’s been 20 months since my last post. However, the long absence from this blogging space has not been due to a “blogger’s block”, quite the opposite. This is what I’ve been up to lately:
About a year and a half ago I started a new blogging project with Ana Miotti: EFL Context.AR – Teaching English at schools in Argentina. I call it a project, rather than a blogging “adventure” or “experience” since for the first time I feel I had a clear aim, subject matter and target audience for a professional development blog in mind. It was not just about general technology integration or random professional musings, but specifically about ELT at school settings in Argentina, which has been traditionally regarded as “the Cinderella” in the school system. We had found a blogging niche.
After working in different ELT settings, both Ana and I had chosen state secondary schools as our main teaching contexts. Although we faced different types of challenges, being teachers with a deep commitment not only to our own professional development but to our educational system, we agreed that teaching EFL at schools implied rethinking our teaching practice at different levels: the pedagogical approach, the socio-cultural context and materials, among others. What’s more, we felt that many colleagues were also aware of these aspects but lacked the self-confidence or the theoretical framework to put forward their ideas overtly. The academic alienation that permeated an important part of our training or the dissonance with mainstream practices, what I’ve called the “ELT box”, would sometimes underestimate tailor-made strategies, approaches and materials for specific contextual demands.
With these concerns in mind, we started this online space with our own posts, but we rapidly felt the need and seized every opportunity to open up to other teachers’ writing. The first two contributions came from two local teacher trainers who shared their insights through an interview on curricular reform and a guest post about an experience on materials development. One post at a time, we saw how our blogging project developed to a point at which topics emerged and built up across entries and authors, i.e. it developed its own agenda.
As to us, we smoothly moved from authors to editors. Personally, I’ve come to enjoy the “journalistic side” of writing interview questions, creating catchy titles and devising social media strategies to spread the EFL word. The 2.0 network has evolved from a single blog to Facebook and G+ pages where other related contents can be disseminated, such as research articles and local ELT events.
The ubiquitous global ELT industry tends to keep us “inside the box” by offering standardized tools and solutions, leading to a sense of frustration if we can’t “fit our classroom into it”. Most likely, just as it happened with the nine-dot puzzle, the successful way of coping with our school classroom challenges will imply going beyond the “percieved box” in terms of conceptual and practical boundaries, making the “local connection”.
I believe the well-known metaphor “thinking outside the box” suits us well since we are trying to look at ELT from a fresh perspective, tapping into the contributions of critical pedagogy, the sociocultural approach and, most importantly, highligting the opportunities and positive aspects of the school setting instead of focusing only on its limitations. We feel this contextualized pedagogical approach, which is not absent from local academia, in fact we constantly draw on current Argentinian ELT research in our posts, needs new communication channels to build a sense of contextual awareness among teachers, to actually reach the classroom.
EFL Context.AR online:
It generally takes a couple of days to sink in, to put things into perspective. The two hectic days spent at the “II Jornadas de ELT – Challenges in the English Language classroom” at Universidad Nacional de Villa María left me with notes, materials to try out, concepts to revisit or to explore further, but, above all, with some genuine connections and reflections. Here’s a brief summary and my attempt to reflect on the experience I had the pleasure to share with my former high school classmate and colleague, Ana Miotti.
The conference featured two plenaries. The first one was on New Orientations in Language Learning Strategies by María Inés Valsecchi and María Celina Barbeito, who discussed Rebecca Oxford’s latest work. In her 2011 book, the American researcher re- examines her own theory to accommodate the socio-cultural interactive dimension to language learning strategies. This change, as Barbeito pointed out, is in line with similar shifts in the research fields of motivation and autonomy discussed by Ema Ushioda and David Little at FAAPI 2012.
The closing plenary was in charge of Charly López, who gave a very lively talk on classroom management, a crucial aspect that is, unfortunately, often overlooked in teacher training.
UNVM teachers also offered a number of interesting workshops. We attended one on “Language Intercomprehension and its Relevance in the Teaching of Reading-Comprehension Skills in the Foreign Language” and another one on “Empowering Students’ Writing Performance through Strategy Instruction”.
On the Teachers’ Forum and changing the state of knowledge
Probably the most challenging part for us was taking part in the Teachers’ Forum. Forum presentations were divided into two thematic areas: Forum A: Social Studies and Forum B: The Use of Technology in the Classroom. Ana and I were both presenting our classroom experiences in Forum B: English 2.0: A Blended Seminar for Secondary School Students at Escuela Superior de Comercio, UNR and Why and how you can use facebook at school. What we have done at EES N° 572 (Rosario, Argentina).
So, why taking the trouble to go all the way to another province to tell others what we are doing in our classrooms? When you prepare a presentation you have to go over the process you’ve been through, you have to conceptualize each step, to organize your experience to be shared in public. Then, you go through the jitters and last-minute uncertainties. Is my presentation clear enough? Have I covered the main points? Will my experience be relevant to other teachers? Will technology work?
Most importantly, by telling our experience to others we are taking responsibility for what we are doing and opening it up for reflection and discussion in wider professional circles. As Stephen Pinker, points out on the difference between individual and mutual knowledge , “explicit language is a great way of creating mutual knowledge” and he adds “by putting it “out there” we are changing the state of knowledge.”
I feel this is what happened with Ana’s presentation. She talked about her experience using Facebook with her students in a state-run school in the suburbs of Rosario as a way of building a closer relationship with them. “You can’t teach them if they don’t like you” she told me, as Oxford’s entire renewed theoretical framework came to life in her words. The human component. Facebook was then an integral part of Ana’s strategy to reach and build rapport with her students in that particular context. The great thing is that her presentation seemed to have a big impact on the audience, as other teachers said it encouraged them to try out a similar strategy with their students. The topic was mentioned in an article published on the UNVM website: Proponen enseñar inglés con Facebook en el aula and has also called the attention of a local newspaper. We cannot tell how far its influence will get, but I’m sure none of this would have happened if Ana had not decided to open up and share her experience.
Although teaching and learning are eminently social practices, we have to admit that all too often we are isolated in our classrooms. Institutional communication is not always as fluent as it should be and a number of personal and professional variables affect these types of exchanges. I firmly believe that fostering these types of forums both within and across institutions, on and offline, empowers teachers to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their own practice. It is by listening to each other that we can build some kind of “contextual awareness”, learn about the specific challenges in Argentinian EFL classrooms and come up with both effective and relevant strategies to overcome them and refresh our practice.
All the presentations have been published at Profesorado en Lengua Inglesa – UNVM
We’ve just finished the English 2.0 Seminar! I’d like to thank the Languages Department and school authorities at Escuela Superior de Comercio for accepting this proposal. It was hard work and a real challenge but we succeeded thanks to the institutional support and, above all, to students’ commitment and enthusiasm.
According to the new school curriculum (2010), 3rd year students have to take two elective seminars, which are to be delivered throughout a semester mainly online, with a maximum of 5 face-to-face meetings.
The English 2.0 seminar is a blended learning experience of Academic English which focuses on the development of reading and listening skills through the use of web 2.0 resources and tools. It is carried out through Comunidades, the Moodle-based University virtual campus
The seminar aims at learning about other academic subjects through adapted and authentic online resources in English, as well as providing students with tools and strategies to use the web 2.0 autonomously to develop their own learning.
For the final assignment, students worked in pairs or small groups to design their own digital posters about a topic related to the academic subjects included in the seminar.
Update: Presentation: English 2.0: A Blended Seminar for Secondary School Students at II Jornadas ELT at Universidad Nacional de Villa María, May 23rd – 24th , 2013
This morning I had the pleasure of sharing the paper I presented at FAAPI with a group of local teachers at ARCI. Here’s the first part of the presentation:
During the second part of the presentation, I shared a summary of the sessions I attended as well as my personal reflections on the conference.
I’m sharing the presentation I gave at IPS last May during the school’s book fair. It was a real challenge to speak to an audience composed of almost a hundred teenagers. They didn’t take it seriously at first. Fiction? On Twitter? But the compelling pun on words, extreme brevity, multiple meanings and intertextuality did the trick! Far from being easy to read, these microstories required their full attention and language awareness. Amazing how much we can do with 140 characters!
User-generated content at the core of the Web 2.0, content for intercultural awareness and reflection, content across the curriculum, content that matters, the bare essentials of content, content as meaning…. as simple and as relevant as that!
Content for context: El inglés como lengua extranjera: perspectiva Intercultural y transversalidad
Content in the works…
Striving for Relevance – Content and Language Learning for secondary EFL students
This presentation aims at reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of teaching English in a secondary school setting and the importance of redefining learning goals, aiming at what students can do with and learn through the language rather than just how much they know about the language. The use of the web and other authentic resources to create learner-centered cross-curricular tasks and projects can help students find meaningful connections between English and other subjects as well as with their own needs and interests while preparing them to deal with real life situations in the foreign language.
Image Flickr CC: C Mosaic