Teaching more than English in secondary education

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Teaching more than English in secondary education
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  comment Teaching more than Englishin secondary education Darı´o Luis Banegas The issue of including controversial topics in the EFL classroom is notnew. However, this comment briefly reviews aspects of textbooksproduced in Britain for the general English class in terms of topics anddiscusses how critical pedagogy could be systematically developedthroughanegotiated EFL syllabus.Theaimistosharewhatteachersarecurrently exploring at secondary schools in a part of Argentina. (Un)controversialcoursebooks For reasons generally attributed to the production and marketing of mainstream coursebooks produced for the general EFL class regardless of where they are used, publishers avoid the inclusion of provocative topicsin developing the units of work coursebooks may be divided into. Thishas produced a set of guidelines summarized as PARSNIP (Gray 2000;Akbari 2008). This acronym stands for the avoidance of topics related topolitics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms, such as communism,capitalism, feminism among others, and pornography.AsHillyard (2005)points out, when we study the topics material writersoffer for the teenage EFL class, there is little controversial material. On thecontrary, we find such themes as the family, sport, hobbies, travel, popculture,festivalsfromremotecountries,whichbearnoimpactonstudents’lives, fashion,and food,amongothers. In her own words,‘there islittleforadolescents to get their teeth into; there are very few life hooks’ (ibid.: 328).This idea of lack of realness, asLeather (2003)puts it in her review of a textbook based on thought-provoking issues and taboos, has led to thebeliefthattextbooksproducedforaninternationalaudiencearebland,and,to put it simply, boring.Coursebooks are criticized not only for avoiding provoking topics but alsofor presenting a romantic view of countries such as Britain or the USA (Helgesen 2007;Viney 2007;Masuhara, Hann, Yi, and Tomlinson 2008). In an attempt to avoid taboos and issues, material writers opt for selectingthemes that are rooted in the British or American culture. However, theportrayal they offer of the target culture is far from being innocent.According to Gray (op. cit.) in his paper about the textbook as a culturalartefact,thetargetcultureseemstoupholdvaluesandlivingstandardsthatare better than those of the student’s culture, leading to the perceptionthat the target culture is superior to the student’s. Even if textbooks docontemplate topics such as poverty, hunger, or even discrimination, theyare contextualized in Africa or the Muslim world, creating the idea thatpoverty or discrimination is nowhere to be found in Europe or the USA . ELT  Journal; doi:10.1093/elt/ccq016 1 of 3 ªª The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.   ELT Journal Advance Access published April 1, 2010   b  y  onA  pr i  l  2  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   el   t   j  . ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om   Consequently, students need to be helped to become more critical of theseaspects so as to evaluate the way in which cultures are represented intextbooks used by the international community. The challenge This critical view of coursebooks is very much associated with a broaderaspect to be considered, ELT pedagogy applied to EFL contexts. Akbari(op.cit.)claimsthatCPshouldbegivenroominthe ELT classroom.Oneof theadvantagesofCPisthat,whenteachersandstudentsfindinternationaltextbooks unappealing, it becomes a liberating force as it empowerspractitioners to legitimize their theories of learning a foreign language intheir context, having in mind the social matrix that education is part of.In other words, even if coursebooks come packed with their own agenda,teachersneedtobeawareofthefactthattheyhavethepowertocreatetheirown agenda, in fact, their own syllabus around topics of interest in theirteaching–learning environment. What is more, teachers could use theready-made contents suggested by the coursebook they have adopted tochallenge sociocultural assumptions as well as representations from boththetargetcultureandtheirown.Whydothepoorhavetobenon-American?Why are upper-class John and Mary from London the only ones who planholidaysintheCaribbean?Dowenotalsodiscriminateagainstimmigrantsfrom neighbouring countries in Argentina? Teachers need to beempowered so that they can reject, criticize, and adapt the material theyuse in order to help their students develop their critical thinking skills.Better still, teachers may eventually create their own material, either as themain source or as a systematically used supplement to their teachingpractices. Our experience InanattempttomakeroomforCPin EFL classesatonesecondaryschoolinArgentina, teachers have decided to adopt a two-part syllabus. On the onehand, teachers follow a mainstream coursebook for teenagers, which isused on a regular basis. On the other hand, teachers, together with theirstudents,haveagreedonanegotiatedsyllabusinwhichcontroversialtopicshave been included. While teachers suggested topics such as child abuse,gaymarriage,drugabuse,discrimination,andimmigration,studentsaskedto discuss issues related to psychological disorders, divorce, politics, eatingdisorders, the Catholic Church, and single parenting among others. Thisnegotiated syllabus, which is covered once a month, has been crystallizedin the form of a sourcebook in which teachers have compiled authenticreading and listening material to develop activities aimed at theArgentinian teenage students at state schools in an effort to produce morecontextually appropriate material (Block 1991;Peacock 1997). If, for example, gay marriage is an issue students would like to debate, why dowehavetosetitinaforeigncountry,whensuchatopiciscurrentlyanissuein Argentinian society?Thisexplorationisalocalinitiativeanditisnotclaimedthatthesameshouldbe carried out everywhere, as the experience is very much rooted in theArgentinian context. So far, students have warmly welcomed the materialproduced by their own teachers and their motivation has increased as theyfeel they can use their English to talk about real matters they would liketo discuss openly, no matter the language. 2 of 3 Darı´o Luis Banegas   b  y  onA  pr i  l  2  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   el   t   j  . ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om   References Akbari, R. 2008. ‘Transforming lives: introducingcritical pedagogy into ELT classrooms’. ELT  Journal  62/3: 276–83. Block, D. 1991. ‘Some thoughts on DIY materialsdesign’. ELT  Journal  45/3: 211–7. Gray, J. 2000. ‘The ELT coursebook as culturalartefact:howteacherscensorandadapt’. ELT   Journal  54/3: 274–83. Helgesen, M. 2007. ‘Notes from the Apocrypha’. Folio 11/2: 9. Hillyard, S. 2005. ‘Content with your content? WhyteachGlobalIssuesin ELT ?’inL.Anglada(ed.).  30th FAAPI  Conference. Towards the Knowledge Society:Making  EFL Education Relevant. Conference Proceedings  . Co´rdoba, Argentina: Comunicarte. Leather, S. 2003. ‘Taboos and issues’. ELT  Journal  57/2: 205–6. Masuhara, H., N. Hann, Y. Yi, and B. Tomlinson. 2008. ‘Adult EFL courses’. ELT  Journal  62/3:294–312. Peacock, M. 1997. ‘The effect of authentic materialsonthemotivationof  EFL learners’. ELT  Journal  51/2:144–56. Viney, P. 2007. ‘Author test’. Folio 11/2: 25–7. The author  Darı´ o Luis Banegas holds an MA in ELT (UniversityofWarwick).Heteaches EFL ,Literature,andCriticalThinking at secondary schools. He coordinates theimplementation of  EFL at primary schools andteacher training ( INSET ) programmes in Chubut,Argentina. His interests are curriculum design,initial language teacher education, and Content andLanguage Integrated Learning ( CLIL ) in EFL contexts. Email: dariobanegas@hotmail.com Comment: Teaching more than English in secondary education 3 of 3   b  y  onA  pr i  l  2  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   el   t   j  . ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om 
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