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