2009/01/29

THE MAGIC WAND APPROACH

Some Reflections on Current Reality within the EFL Classroom

I have been a teacher of English for many years now and I always wondered why students did not learn the way I wanted, or, in other words, as much as I wanted in the time I wanted. They seemed to start well in the early courses but there is a moment, after two or three years, when I feel students loose their interest in the subject (“Well, they are teenagers, you know!” everybody tells me!) and no matter which lesson you are teaching there is always a group which does not looks interested at all. One brief look at text books will give you the clue: it is the same song with a different tune over and over again: family, school, sports, your neighbourhood... English school books are written to suit the needs of people from all over the world and the subjects have to be as general as possible, with no cultural reference (or just very little) and loads of boring and decontextualized grammar drills provided (on most cases) to keep students busy and, that way, quiet. And we go like this once and again, working with adapted texts, which means texts written bearing in mind the limited vocabulary of students and their (also limited) language knowledge. And most students believe they are learning the language (or teachers believe they are teaching the language) just because they keep going unit after unit, chapter after chapter, following a mathematical order and doing exactly what the author suggests the way the author suggests.

But what happens when students, by any chance, come across the “real world of the language”? It happens that most of them feel cheated by a system that does not provide them with enough “tools” to face it. And then, we, their teachers of English, have to hear once and again the same: students are unmotivated because they KNOW it is not possible to study English in a classroom (an artificial context anyway!) and they believe that if they go to England and live there for some time they are going to learn the REAL language there! And what is worse: this is not only our students’ belief, but their parents’, other teachers and, basically, most members of our own society!

So what can we do to change this way of seeing the teaching/learning of English in our schools? Well, of course, I would like to have a magic wand and make my students go through time and space to an English speaking country and stay there, interact with people and hear (and use!) the REAL language at least during the time they are in my classes. For the moment, I am totally unable to fulfil these expectations, but what I CAN DO is bring the real world to my classes! This is possible if we limit the use of (what I call) “artificial language” and focus on real, original English teaching resources. That is to say, if we introduce in our classes original texts, songs, films as means of an attractive and interesting teaching approach, students will be more motivated and willing to participate in the classroom activities. By means of projects, webquests, podcasts, blogs, chats, original version films, poems, short stories, novels, songs and also inviting native speakers to visit your classroom and talk to your students, kids (and the others!) will see they are interacting in a world that can be easily recognized by anybody, particularly by our own students.
The results are truly worth the effort!

2009/01/20

LEARNING THROUGH DRAMA

During my past learning experiences, I have found myself in many different learning environments. Various studies show that children, especially the younger ones, learn more through hands-on activities based on play. A number of theories state that drama helps pupils understand curricular concepts better. Both drama and play are mainly based on group work and support personal as well as social development. This helps teachers reach children with different learning abilities. The data gathered during this research shows that drama and play are useful in making the teaching and learning experiences more meaningful and more pleasant for all those involved. Through the integration of drama and play within the curriculum, education becomes more holistic and more complete for all learners, regardless of their learning abilities and learning styles.

When comparing and contrasting the hands on method to the lecture method many people prefer the hands on method. This allows the students to further understand what the teachers are trying to teach. By using this method a majority of the students will learn more, and learn at a quicker pace.

There are many good qualities in using a hands on method for learning. One reason is that way the students get to know each other better. They learn ways to get along and work well together. By having students work out the problem, they are more apt to remember it in the future. Looking at it from a teacher’s standpoint, by having all the kids work in front of class, it is possible to make sure the students are doing their own work. This also can help show how far along the student is, and how much of the reason they’ve learned. The most important thing about hands on work is it’s fun. When students are having fun, they will learn more. This could even create better behavior from the students. .

Many times there can be bad points to lecturing. One thing is that it’s usually boring. Everyone would agree that it’s no fun to sit and listen to someone talk while all you do is take notes. This is the reason for many people falling asleep in class. Sometimes it becomes hard to continue listening to someone for a long period of time. Another bad quality about lecturing is that it separates which teachers students dislike and which ones they like. Lecture style teaching leads many students’ get bored and not enjoy the class. If a teacher lets students use hands on work to learn they will become a teacher the students like and want to have for class.

According to Friedrich Froebel, the founder of the kindergarten system, “children are like growing plants in a garden, to be cultivated according to the laws of their own being, of God and of Nature.” Many authorities believe that because of humans’ evolution in the natural world, people possess nature-based genetic coding and instincts. Therefore, children are born with a natural, innate sense of relatedness to nature.

it is important for children to participate in dramatic play in outdoor environments. It gives them the opportunity to be in role and play imaginatively. And this because there is a greater sense of freedom in the outdoors and more space and noise.

One of the teachers in an ordinary Swedish primary school worked with a class of 7 children of 6-7 years old on two famous fairy tales: “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Three Billy Goats Gruff” in two different periods of time. The enactment of the first fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood”, took place not far from school in a place with grass, 8-9 trees, some bushes and a path through the area while the second one took place in the schoolyard. It was very positive and easy enacting these fairy tales in natural outdoor environments since the children could “find a place to act in just by thinking of the story”. “They didn’t have to make nature, they were in it.” In both cases the children were excited and had fun role-playing different characters or animals. They thought it was easy since they were very familiar with the stories and everyone knew what to say.

So, in general terms, the drama activities that were done by the teachers in different outdoor environments were successful and the teachers noted positive reactions on behalf of the students who, according to the teachers’ comments they enjoyed the activities and in many cases they got enthusiastic and wanted to do them again.

Unquestionably, drama and modern education share many of their objectives such as creativity and aesthetic development, the ability to think critically, social growth and the ability to work cooperatively with others, improved communication skills, the development of moral and spiritual values, self knowledge, and understanding and appreciation of the cultural backgrounds and values of others and they should be often included into the classes.

THE ROLE OF OUTDOOR EDUCATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

The twentieth century gives importance to the education of young people for life in the next century? We have undergone enormous changes in the education system over the last few years. There have been opportunities to design a new system, which can provide young people with the understanding and skills required for the future.

Outdoor Education clearly can play an important role in encouraging many of these skills and attitudes, which are under emphasised in more formal education. It is clear that the current interest of Outdoor Educationists in the methods of development training is compatible with educating future citizens. It encourages critical thinking, discussion, negotiation, decision making, responsibility for our own actions and evaluation of experiences. There is little doubt that this learning cycle helps participants to clarify values and make changes in their behaviour. It would appear to be an extremely valuable model in encouraging education for sustainability.

WHAT IS "OUTDOOR EDUCATION" ?

The term ‘outdoor education’ embraces activities and experiences that:

• normally take place in the outdoors;
• frequently have an adventurous component;
• generally involve physical activity; and
• always respect the natural environment.

Learning in the outdoors is active, co-operative and relevant. Can the same be said for much of the teaching in our schools?

Factors Developed Through Education:

  1. Self esteem, confidence, motivation
  2. Cooperation, trust, empathy
  3. Communication skills including negotiation and decision making
  4. An ability for critical thinking, lateral thinking, problem solving
  5. Self reliance, an ability to take responsibility for one's own actions
  6. Futures thinking
  7. Feelings of belonging to the natural world and an understanding of our relationship to all life on earth
  8. Creativity, imagination, personal response to the environment
  9. An ability for reflection and evaluation

Outdoor Education has the ability to reach the "hearts of people". Direct experiences in the outdoors are great motivators; they can unlock talents which remain hidden in more formal situations. Direct contact with the natural environment, particularly in challenging situations, can be inspirational and lead to feelings of belonging or oneness with the Earth.

We had gone on a day visit to Lake Kerkini in Greece created as an artificial water reservoir nature with the abundance of animals including 30 fish species, 12 amphibian, 22 reptilian, 300 bird species, 58 mammalian species and shallow waters and water-lily areas etc. The students in our group were very keen on to explore the environment and they were more alert, more interested in what was around them, they were closer to each other. They wanted to ask questions and learn about the things around them and they also wanted us to share their curiosity and answer questions. We could also talk about the Lake Kerkini in our classes but would it be the same? Our students would listen to us at first but in a few minutes they would get bored. What had produced the change? It was the need for play, for spontaneity, for adventure. A chance to feel the natural environment, through their bodies. To run, skip, jump and feel the freedom of a wild area, a new and uncertain environment. The children had enjoyed a common experience, they had come together, there was a sense of achievement. Now was the time for the teacher to build on the enthusiasm and motivation and help them to understand the significance of this special environment and so did they do.

This experience illustrates some valuable lessons from outdoor education. It demonstrates that good education is holistic; it is concerned with mind, body and spirit. motivation and enthusiasm are essential ingredients of effective learning. Adventure is a great motivator. Time spent alone or in small groups in natural areas also motivates. Young people who under-achieve in the classroom may suddenly come alive and show a range of skills that have remained hidden in formal teaching.


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I think Outdoor Education could play a vital role in educating tomorrow's citizens. We are working in a field where we constantly experience success. Many young people who fail in school, fail at home and sometimes fail amongst their friends will succeed in the outdoors. There is an opportunity to inspire, to break a mould, to offer alternative views and begin to change attitudes.

It is important to recognise Outdoor Education's potential, otherwise we may miss opportunities to redress the balance in education. There is need for outdoor educators to assess their aims and programmes, to consider imaginative ways of using the outdoors for adventure, problem solving, conservation, community involvement and the creative arts. There is little doubt that Outdoor Education can provide a powerful means of developing skills and qualities necessary for our future citizens. We can all do much more to encourage this process.