Wednesday, September 8, 2010

talking to the English Department

I stuck around for the English Department meeting this afternoon--recall that Jorge asked me to tell them what I told the Valparaiso English Network teachers. Here's what was different this time:
  1. Mara, the head of the department (who is often very pushy, but very nice), said, "Remember how we talked about grouping students by their English level?". A fine idea, one I agree with, but no, I'm pretty sure we never talked about that.
  2. "We want you to talk to the school's head of curriculum about that. We've told her, but she doesn't believe us."
Allrighty, then.

The curriculum director was very nice and very patient with my Spanish. I described how I learned Spanish, starting with basic usage and only much later learning about the grammar behind what I'd learned. For example, the teacher started by saying "Levántense!" and making a motion to stand up. So we knew that meant "Stand up!". Likewise, "Abran los libros" was obviously "Open your books." I think 3 years later I learned that those were the command form of those verbs. In the meantime, it wasn't important.

My favorite trick for these conversations is to show someone the first page of the Ministry of Education's English book, then the first page of English In Action. In her case, she doesn't speak English, so she understood how the Ministry book looks like an impenetrable tangle of text. I also said that even if you read English, the material makes no sense, and that especially impressed her when the English teachers nodded in agreement. She also wanted to photocopy English In Action, so hopefully in designing the system for next year, they'll track kids by level, and then start actually teaching to their level.

I wonder about my role in all any situation, there's a lot of value in moving from a theoretical discussion (that maybe you've been having for years) to having someone from the outside come in and say, "Well, here's what my experience has been..." and hearing my stories both about learning Spanish, and about the changes I've seen in my students, how they've been able to master and actually acquire some English in our time together.

Apparently my next use may be to help convince some of the department holdouts that the essence of English is using it to communicate, rather than just abstractly learning its grammar.

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