Posts Tagged high school

EFL Context.AR (or trying to think outside the ELT box)

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 bloggihand2ng “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.

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“9dots” by Blleininger – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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”.

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“Ninedots” by User:Marmelad – by Steve Gustafson (aka Smerdis of Tlön). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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:

Blog: http://eflcontextar.blogspot.com.ar/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eflcontextar
Google +: google.com/+EFLContextAr

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Back to School – Survey time!

Last Wednesday I taught my first two high school classes of the year: two groups of 14-year-old post-elementary level students. I always start my first lessons with an introductory getting-to-know-you type of activity and a survey to let them know that their ideas matter and that I’ll do my best to meet their specific needs and interests. Last year, for example, I asked one of my classes (pre-intermediate level) to answer their surveys individually and then I collected them and created a Wordle with the results and brought a printout to the classroom for them to discuss and analyze.

This year – probably inspired by the PD 2.0 experience – I wanted them to work on the surveys in groups and on paper. Each group prepared a poster to tell the class what they liked and didn’t like about learning English, what they’d like to do this year and how they think they learn best. With both groups I noticed that they were somehow taken aback by the proposal and in some cases it was very difficult for them to think of ideas for each category during the previous brainstorming. In other cases, they produced what they regarded as teacher-expected answers and only after I asked them to take risks and imagine more, were they able to contribute some original ideas.

It strikes me that they are not used to being asked for their opinions about their own learning so often and that they are used to “playing school” and complaining about it. 😉 Of course, it was only our first class, but it is clear right from the start that we’ll have to work on building a different learning culture in class based on active participation, collaboration and creativity.

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