Rural Education Has Been The Focus Education Essay

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Rural education has been the focus for several research studies which reveal a tendency to include students' home context in the curriculum. Considering the aforementioned statement, this article aims to share a pedagogical experience, which was carried out in a rural school in Guavatá, Santander, Colombia. The main purpose of this experience was to integrate eleventh graders rural context through the design of curricular units. After implementing the curricular units, information was collected throughout a journal, a semi-structured interview and students' surveys. The outcomes of the experience showed that aspects such as students' sense of cultural belonging and intercultural understanding were enhanced.

Key words: Culture, curricular units, interculturality, rural education

Diversas investigaciones relacionadas con la educación rural han mostrado una tendencia a incluir dentro del currículo de dicha educación el contexto propio de los estudiantes. Teniendo en cuenta la premisa anterior, este artículo pretende compartir una experiencia pedagógica llevada a cabo en un colegio rural en el municipio de Guavatá, Santander, Colombia. El objetivo principal de esta experiencia fue integrar el contexto rural de los estudiantes de undécimo grado a través del diseño de unidades curriculares. Después de desarrollar las unidades, se recolectó información a través de un diario de campo, una entrevista semi-estructurada y encuestas a los estudiantes. Los resultados mostraron que aspectos tales como el sentido de pertenencia cultural y el entendimiento intercultural de los estudiantes se promovieron.

Palabras clave: cultura, educación rural, interculturalidad, unidades curriculares

Introduction

According to Serrano (2007), the history of rural education in Colombia reveals that there is still a big gap between city and rural schooling. The main difference, according to Moulton (2001), relates to the fact that a schooling model developed in an urban context is not always relevant to a rural setting. The same author further asserts that teachers in rural schools should analyze the rural space, both the physical and socio-cultural environment, so that rural education projects take their particular environment into account. What these authors assert is not far from the characteristics of the population to which this pedagogical experience was applied.

Eleventh graders from this rural school in Guavatá, Santander, where this pedagogical experience was carried out, are enrolled in a weekly, three- hour English course as part of the syllabus they have to fulfill at their institution. For the English class, the teacher uses English textbooks designed for students who belong to the main departmental cities in Colombia. The main components of the class are grammar, reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Through informal conversations, students expressed that it was challenging for them to learn in the English class. This was due to the fact that the English textbook was difficult to understand as it did not reflect students' own contexts. For instance, students mentioned that the textbook included exercises in which people commuted by Transmilenio. Nevertheless, traveling by Transmilenio was a faraway possibility for students in rural areas to use. This kind of learning was neither useful nor meaningful for them. However, a unit of the instructional material was based on Transmilenio transportation system.

Heath (1982) suggests that school failure may be partly explained by the mismatch between what students have learned in their home cultures and what is required of them at school. Daily life routines can either be reinforced or ignored in schools, and they can produce different responses from teachers.

Then, our intention with this pedagogical experience was to design more friendly curricular units. These may eventually close the gap between rural school students and the instructional materials they use to learn English. We tried to follow what Patiño-Bernal, Bernal-Vera and Cataño (2011) mention in terms of including the specificities of the rural population in the curriculum. For this reason, we incorporated in the content of the units topics such as guava production, entertainment, professional life and family roles in rural areas. All of them were closely related to eleventh graders' context in this rural school in Guavatá, Santander.

Theoretical Framework

Considering that this proposal was related to the integration of students' context through the design of curricular units, we are going to consider three main constructs for this theoretical framework: Rural Education, Interculturality and Materials Development.

Rural Education

In a "Guide for Rural Development Specialists" designed by the World Bank, Moulton (2001) mentions some generalities related to rural education around the world. The author points out that people in rural regions live dispersed over large areas, and they are of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The author further asserts that the rural/urban distribution of the population does not correlate exactly with enrollment rates in primary school. Besides, while rural schools should not look like urban schools, they must offer the same opportunities as urban schools for children to advance through the school system to higher levels. However, as it is stated by López (2005), in order for rural schools to improve their quality, the educational system needs to include the interests of community. According to this, people in rural areas should be offered the possibility of having a contextualized and meaningful education with high educational standards.

Moulton (2001) also points out that, because rural areas are less densely populated than urban areas, rural schools are farther apart, requiring many children to walk long distances or pay for transportation, which causes them to lose valuable time in walking that could otherwise be spent helping at home. Some families are unwilling to send their small children down long roads alone. Long distances, poor quality roads, and inadequate shipping vehicles make it difficult to get building materials, furniture, equipment, and textbooks to remote rural schools. Stores that sell textbooks and other school supplies are few and far between in rural areas.

Moulton (2001) concludes by saying that, while in many cases building materials and furniture can be locally supplied, instructional materials are not available. These resources include not only textbooks but also the visual materials that decorate classrooms and stimulate learning, as well as simple scientific lab equipment, radios, and other audio-visual equipment that have become standard parts of many classrooms.

In the same sense, Patiño-Bernal et al. (2011) argue that rural schools not only lack proper materials to teach, but also materials that account for students' characteristics and needs. These authors further assert that most teachers who work in rural areas do not design materials for their students because they are not motivated. This unwillingness may be explained due to the fact that professional development courses or any kind of promotion is scanty for the teachers. Besides that, rural teachers are overwhelmed with the amount of tasks they are required to fulfill. Many rural teachers are home-room teachers; teach different grades in the same classroom, even some of them, cook meals for students, for instance.

What theses authors describe as the main characteristics and barriers for rural education is not far from what is illustrated in our Colombian rural education. In fact, the Guavatá school where this experience was carried out has some, if not all, of the deficiencies that the aforementioned authors suggest.

Interculturality

For the purpose for this pedagogical experience we understand interculturality as the relationship among two or more cultures; or the relationship the individuals in a society experience when they are in contact with people who belong to diverse backgrounds. Zimmermann (1997) argues that interculturality can be understood from a critical and descriptive way as the contact between two or more cultures. In the same way Fernández (2003) maintains that being intercultural implies being respectful towards other cultures.

Savignon and Sysoyev (2002) mention that efficient intercultural communication happens when learners are open minded individuals. They respect and follow their own values and rules and those of the other cultures.

As teachers we are called to promote interculturality in education. Kramsch (2001) says that the main goal of second language learning should not only be based on effective communication, but on the search for the understanding of cultural boundaries and the attempt to come to terms with those boundaries. In the same way, Byram (1997) advocates for the responsibility educators have to build intercultural individuals. The author further mentions that this responsibility is on the shoulders of today's educators.

One way to do it is by incorporating in our daily teaching practices students' values and backgrounds. Another way for teachers to stimulate intercultural knowledge among students is by recognizing the diversity of cultures they may find in their own context as well as in foreign settings. For this reason, the curricular units we designed accounted for students' context, trying to acknowledge their own and other cultures.

Materials Development

In this part, we are going to address the following aspects: teachers as material designers, definition of materials design, and the components in the process of creating didactic learning materials. We have selected these three constituents because they are pretty much related to the job of a teacher as a material designer.

Teachers as material designers. A challenge rural schools face, at least in Colombia, relates to the lack of financial and material resources for teaching effectively. Teachers who face the challenge of teaching English in rural areas usually select a textbook that in most cases was not created for rural schools. Wyatt (2011, p. 2) explains that "there is anecdotal evidence that teachers and learners in different contexts can be frustrated by the teaching materials they are asked to use, many of which are mass-produced in the West and used worldwide."

Nevertheless, we do not mean that a textbook used in capital cities cannot be used successfully in a foreign language classroom in rural areas, but it would probably require some adjustments and adaptations, which imply a large effort on the part of the teacher. We think that effort from teachers could just as easily be invested in creating and designing material for a specific population. In this way, two gains can be found: On the one hand, the material may meet the needs of the students, and, on the other hand, the teacher will end up being the author of his or her own material and so grow professionally.

In this sense, Núñez, Téllez, Castellanos and Ramos (2009) suggest that teachers often have trouble finding the appropriate supporting materials to help students reinforce a specific topic in class. To solve this problem, many teachers search for, adapt, and compile books, internet exercises, and other materials.

They further assert that "most EFL/ESL teachers are creative professionals who have the potential to explore their creativity and embark upon the fascinating task of developing their own didactic materials based not only on their teaching experience, but also on their expertise in the cognitive and learning processes needed by EFL/ESL learners" (Núñez et al., 2009, p. 16). Núñez, Pineda and Téllez (2004) conclude that the task of designing materials should not be exclusively confined to text developers, since there is no complete textbook that fulfills both learners' and teachers' expectations. In this sense, Tomlinson (2010) argues that there is currently a noticeable trend in which teachers produce local material because they are in touch with the needs and wants of the learners.

As a first step to becoming material designers, teachers should get acquainted with what material development is and the steps that should be followed. Tomlinson (1998, p. 2) assures that "materials development is anything which is done by writers, teachers or learners to provide sources of language input and to exploit those sources in ways which maximize the likelihood of intake." The author defines the concept of "materials" as the use of various resources to teach language learners. He also conceptualizes materials adaptation as adjustments made in order to improve them or to make them more suitable for a particular type of learner.

In the same way, Ramírez (2004) defines materials as anything used by teachers to facilitate the learning of a language. Tomlinson (1998, p. 2) specifies that materials are "cassettes, videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, dictionaries, grammar books, readers, workbooks, photocopied exercises, all kinds of realia, lectures and talks by guest speakers, and Internet sources".

Although Tomlinson (1998) does not account for curricular units as part of materials used in the classroom, we do think they fall into a category that is immersed in the term materials development. Curricular units may be understood as a source of input that is produced by teachers to better students learning.

After carrying out a case study related to the use and the effectiveness in the application of materials by pre-service teachers at Universidad de Antioquia, González (2006) mentions that materials such as textbooks, computer software, and visual aids are cited by EFL teachers as the basic devices used to teach an effective English lesson. Although there are diverse kinds of realia that can be designed by English teachers, we agree with González (2006) in the sense that one of the most used devices for teaching English is the textbook.

In the context where this experience was carried out, the textbook was almost the only tool for students to have contact with the foreign language. That is why we concentrated our efforts on designing curricular units that could tackle a problem related to the English language teaching in a rural area.

The steps that we followed to design the curricular units, were the ones suggested by Núñez and Téllez (2009, p. 176): "Carrying Out a Needs Assessment, Setting Goals and Objectives, Conceptualizing Content/Designing a Syllabus, Selecting and Developing Materials and Activities, Organizing Content and Activities and Evaluating the Material."

These curricular units were designed considering what Cárdenas (2000) calls a local audience, which, in this case, is a particular rural school in Guavatá, Santander. The author further suggests that when we design materials for a local audience, we should be familiar with the needs of the learners, their age, level of proficiency, degree of motivation, cultural learning styles, and the place of the foreign language in the educational system. Cárdenas (2008) further emphasizes that English teachers are called to select, design and adapt material for students since they are the ones in touch with the realities of the schools.

In Colombia, teachers have become aware of the fact that they can adopt a critical position towards the materials they use in their classrooms. This trend has generated interesting dynamics and we may find that there are several researchers who have focused their attention on three main areas: analyzing what the information in the textbooks conveys, finding practical ways to adapt material and designing teaching materials that meet Colombian realities.

On the one hand, Castañeda-Peña (2008) focused his attention on finding out about gender identity and teacher talk around language textbooks of preschool EFL students. Bonilla (2008), Delgado (2008), Guerrero (2008) and Álvarez (2008) invite English teachers to critically evaluate culture and ideologies in the textbooks that they may eventually use.

On the other hand, Nieto (2008) calls EFL teachers' attention in regards to the adaptation of materials found on the internet. The author suggests that teachers should look for appropriate sources and adapt them to suit students and teachers interests. In the same line of thought, Duarte and Escobar (2008), Núñez and Téllez (2009) inform EFL teachers about the principles to adapt didactic materials.

Finally, Ariza and Viáfara (2008) comment on the principles that should guide the design of independent work material. Muñoz and Pineda (2008), Núñez and Téllez (2008), Vera (2008), Castañeda-Peña and Campo (2010), Aguirre and Ramos (2008), and Bailey and Rey (2008), among others, share the experience of designing English teaching materials for Colombian students and teachers.

In terms of the design of curricular units, they have proved to be beneficial. Ariza (2004) analyzed a syllabus in a Basic English course in an undergraduate program at a public university in Bogotá. Based on the syllabus and the program, she designed and implemented a curricular unit. She found out that the curricular unit was beneficial, since she could match what the curriculum stated and what students needed both in terms of language and cultural knowledge.

Zuluaga, López, and Quintero (2009) accounted for the results of a research project developed at a public university in Caldas. Pre-service teachers and their advisors integrated the coffee culture into the English program in a rural area through content-based tasks. The authors reported that this project was useful since students in rural areas could learn in a meaningful way. Muñoz (2010) describes the results of an action research project at a private school in Bogotá. The author designed instructional materials based on the Structural Cognitive Modifiability Model. The findings revealed that the students became creative writers.

Parada and Espitia (2008) accounted for the design of a curricular unit aimed at combining The English Discoveries Software and the eclectic approach. This unit was based on the socio-constructivism philosophy of education. It also considered collaborative learning. Findings suggest that this unit was meaningful for students in a rural school since they were able to be the main constructors of their knowledge.

Thus, it is, clear from the above discussion that Colombian teachers have not only been concerned about the content of the English textbooks used in Colombia, but they have also made big efforts to consider students` needs and realities when designing instructional materials. As a result, Colombian English teachers have been able to apply successful strategies to address their concerns.

The Pedagogical Proposal

Context of the experience

The school where this experience took place is located in Guavatá, Santander; a town located four hours from Colombia's capital Bogotá. The school is located on the Pavachoque rural settlement. This institution has a big farm for the students' practices. The town borders Puente Nacional, Vélez, and Barbosa. This town is known as the "guava capital of the world," because it has approximately nine guava loaf factories.

Guavatá's economy depends mostly on agriculture and its rural economy is dominated by an agricultural sector. The product that is mostly grown is guava, but other products, such as sugar cane, corn, beans, avocado, and coffee, are also harvested.

This rural school is a public one, the only institution in the town, and it serves students from first to eleventh grade. The school's pedagogical project focuses on agriculture and cattle. Students attend three forty-five-minute sessions of English class per week, and each course has on average thirty students.

The students

There are thirty-four students in the eleventh grade class. They range in age from fifteen to eighteen years old. There are seventeen boys and seventeen girls. They all come from families whose socio-economical status belongs to either level one or two on a scale from one to six, with one being the lowest and six (students who have more access to economic resources) the highest on this scale. Most students live with their families (mother, father, and siblings). Some of the students live in a single-parent families (five students with their mom, two with their dad). All of the students signed a consent form and, in order to guarantee anonymity, participants' names were changed.

The vast majority of families base their income on the farming of guava, coffee, sugar cane, corn, and some fruits, like oranges and bananas. Most of the students are required by their parents to help with the farming labor activity and chores. These families are usually unable to afford the costs of school, including basic tools such as pencils and notebooks. Some families have difficulty buying school uniforms and school meals.

Conditions of the implementation

The pedagogical proposal consisted of a series of curricular units that integrated students' context. The first step to design the curricular units was to carry out a needs analysis. The needs analysis was done in order to identify the current and future needs of eleventh graders in order to design the curricular units. The information for the needs analysis was initially taken from a survey that was applied to eleventh graders (Appendix 1). Figure 1 reports the main needs found after the survey was analyzed.

Students are between 15 and 18 years old

Skills to be developed

Speaking

Reading

Writing

Listening

Grammar

Kinds of activities:

Group activities

Dialogues

Problem solving activities

Funny activities

Sharing personal experiences

-

Students live in arural area where guava is the main agricultura product

Topics for the curricular units

My rural context

My family

My future

Professional life

Entertainment in rural areas

Students take 3 Hours of English per week

Students are mostly visual and kinesthetic

Figure 1. Main needs found after analyzing the survey

After the survey, we expanded the information through an interview. The answers helped us to identify three main issues that needed to be included as part of the curricular units. On the one hand, there were issues related to the students' own culture, and, on the other, aspects that accounted for the development of intercultural competence as well as autonomous learning.

We realized that the main issue to be considered when designing the curricular units was related to acknowledging students' rural context. That is to say, students wanted to see their context, their way of living, thinking, and behaving, reflected in the curricular units that were to be used for English teaching.

What we, teachers-as-designers, adopted was an approach that fostered students' own identity and, through the process built up their intercultural knowledge. Considering that "learning a language is related to learning a culture" (Álvarez & Bonilla, 2009, p. 151), it was necessary to focus on aspects related to intercultural knowledge so that students would be aware of how people belonging to other cultures behave.

The curricular units accounted for an intercultural component. Throughout the units we tried to explore cultural issues related to students' own lives and the culture of English speakers. The idea was for students to begin reflecting upon their own culture and others people's cultures, and, thus, to develop intercultural competence. We attempted to cover some important aspects related to how English-speaking cultures behave in situations similar to the ones experienced by eleventh graders in this rural school.

First, we let students explore their own culture. The intercultural component consisted of a series of readings. We wrote some short articles that presented situations that were highly related to people's behaviour in Spanish as well as English- speaking contexts. They were suitable for classroom discussions and/or debates (Appendix 2).

Second, after the analysis of the interview, which was carried out just before the survey used to collect information for the needs analysis, we noticed the need to foster autonomous learning. In order to fulfil the objectives of the curricular units, an autonomous task was presented in each unit. The students were given exercises as homework assignments. These exercises consisted of some reading comprehension exercises, which had short passages with general topics in which they had to answer questions about the text using multiple choice answers or true/false exercises (Appendix 3).

Also, we noticed how important it was for students to involve their parents in their education. Based on this observation, we designed some short tasks in which parents could participate (Appendix 4).

Findings

We collected information during a school year. In order to gather information, we used a journal, students' surveys and a semi-structured final interview. The researchers wrote a journal every single class in order to reflect on the development of the activities proposed in the curricular units. In addition, we used a survey to gather students' perceptions regarding the curricular units. Finally, we used an interview in order to analyze students' final conclusions and personal points of view regarding the curricular units. Based on the previous instruments, we found that curricular units were a useful strategy to strengthen students' sense of cultural belonging and to move towards intercultural understanding.

A Step towards Strengthening Students' Sense of Cultural Belonging

According to Maslow (1954), belonging is one of the more basic needs of human beings. Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky, Bouwsema and Collier (1992) define sense of belonging as the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that people feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment. A system can be a relationship or organization, and an environment can be natural or cultural.

As part of the initial findings, it was observed that curricular units were powerful tools to strengthen students' sense of cultural belonging. This means that, through the implementation of the curricular units, students felt valued, needed and accepted, and they felt they fit into the system in which they were living. The previous information can be corroborated by means of the survey and the interview students answered after the curricular units were carried out.

In the information gathered from the students, some students mentioned that they felt they were an important component of their community. They also stated that activities they did at home, such as harvesting, were valued by the society. The question addressed in the survey, as well as in the interview, was: do you think the topics addressed in the curricular unit were related to your own context? We observed that, even without being asked about belonging, some of the students tended to use the words "values" and "acceptance" to show a sense of belonging.

A mí me gustaron los temas de las unidades porque me di cuenta de la importancia de lo que yo hago en mi casa. En mi tiempo libre yo recojo guayabas en mi casa y de acuerdo con las lecturas que vimos muchas personas consideran que la recolección de guayabas es una parte importante la producción. No solo los dueños de las empresas son importantes sino también personas como yo que recogemos las frutas. [sic] (Survey 2, Q5, Juliana)

I liked the topics addressed in the curricular units because I could see how important my job at home is. During my free time, I usually collect guavas at home. According to the readings, many people consider this to be an important part of the guava's production. Not only the owners of the factories are important but also people like me who just collect the fruits. (Survey 2, Q5, Juliana)

In the same survey, when being asked about the relationship the teaching material had with their social context, some other students mentioned that they liked the curricular units because they were related to the way they earn their income. They said it was interesting to analyze topics related to their region and to change the topic they usually address in their English classes.

¿Crees que el material se relacionó con aspectos de tu vida diaria? ¿Por qué? Do you think the material for the English class is related to your context? Why?

Si porque nosotros vivimos y nos sostenemos con la guayaba. [sic] (Student's answer. Survey 2)

Yes because our income is based on guava's production. (Student's answer. Survey 2)

Si me gusto el tema de la guayava por que es lo que se be aquí en nuestra región y también me llamo la atención por que se cambio el tema en la clase de inglés. [sic] (Student's answer. Survey 2)

I liked the topic related to the guava because it is what we do here in our region. I also liked the issue of changing the topic in our English class. (Student's answer. Survey 2)

20. Los temas eran relacionados con mi vida.

21. Definitivamente yo pude almenos decir algo de los temas

22. que se trataron en la clase de inglés porque

23. yo sabía. En serio, yo sabía de que eran

24. las lecturas. Fue bueno ver que los ejercicios

25. que desarrollamos en la casa eran fáciles porque

26. mis papas sabían acerca del tema.

27. yo solo les decía las palabras en inglés.

28. yo creo que fue bueno ver como lo que yo sabia

29. y lo que mis papas sabían era valorado en la unidad. [sic] (Student's answer. Survey 2)

20. The topics were related to my context.

21. I could definitely say something about the topics

22. we addressed in the English class because

23. I knew about them. I really knew what the readings

24. were about. It was also good to see that the tasks

25. to be developed at home were easy because

26. my parents knew about the topic.

27. I just told them the correct vocabulary in English.

28. I think it was nice to see how my knowledge

29. and my parents knowledge was valued in the units. (Student's answer. Survey 2)

In the journal, one of the curricular unit designers quoted what a student mentioned while working on an activity related to the best methods for harvesting guavas.

Students are working in groups and one of them mentioned that now he knew how to harvest in English. I like this unit because it motivates me to improve not only what I do at home but also what I do here at school.

These answers show how students felt valued because their previous knowledge was taken into account. In a study related to teenagers' identity, carried out by López (2009), the author mentions that, through fostering their sense of belonging, students continuously construct and re-construct their personal identity. That re-construction is based on the kind of interaction that they have with themselves and with the world around them.

Moving Towards Intercultural Understanding

One of the main parts of the curricular units we designed was an intercultural component. There were readings that aimed to provide students with information related to their own culture and the foreign language culture, due to the fact that we wanted students to explore different aspects related to the diversity of their own culture. Additionally, we expected them to recognize how diverse people are so that they would be tolerant and respectful towards English- speaking cultures.

During the analysis of the information, we found that students began to develop an intercultural understanding. Students started to be aware of the relationship their culture had with other cultures. The curricular units allowed students to compare their own reality with that of people belonging to different cultures. They were able to interpret the intercultural issues from a critical perspective.

We found that students' reactions towards the implementation of the units were characterized by transactions between their own realities and others' realities. For the students, each curricular unit was a space to reflect about their realities and to learn about the realities of those who live in English-speaking countries. The curricular units allowed students to compare between their daily experiences to the situations undergone by people in the texts. They began to become aware of the fact that they had experienced similar situations to the ones presented in the texts.

In the following excerpt of an interview, a student mentions her feelings in relation to the intercultural aspects that were part of the curricular units. At the beginning, we asked the student about the intercultural readings in general. After answering that she found the readings quite interesting because she did not know how similar people in her hometown could be to native English speakers, the student mentioned that she had thought people in Colombia were the only ones who harvested sugarcane. In that sense, she further asserted that it was good to know how other people use sugarcane to produce alcoholic beverages.

37. Bueno yo creo que las lecturas fueron interesantes porque

38. yo pude ver que lo que hacemos aquí en Guavatá

39. no es tan diferente de lo que hacen otras personas en otros lugares.

40. osea, hay muchas costumbres que compartimos con otras

41. personas que consideramos diferentes.

42. por ejemplo yo no sabia que en Barbados

43. la gente cultiva caña de azúcar y que ellos hacen

44. artos productos de caña.

45. Bueno, yo nisiquiera sabia que ellos hablaban en inglés. [sic] (Interview 2T 1, I 1, L37- 4, Margalida)

37. Well I found the readings interesting because

38. through them I realized that what we do here in Guavatá

39. is not far from what people in other places do.

40. I mean, there are many customs that we share with

41. those people we considered different.

42. For example, I did not know that in Barbados

43. People cultivate sugarcane and that they develop

44. different products out of it.

45. Well, in fact, I did not even know that they spoke English. (Interview 2T 1, I 1, L37- 4, Margalida)

As part of the survey, another student mentioned that she was not aware of some aspects related to her own culture. She further mentioned that it was useful to know about her own culture and contrast it with the others.

Yo no sabía que Santander es uno de los lugares en donde más se cultiva guayaba y eso que yo nací aquí. Yo no sabia que Guavata y Santander son muy importantes en la producción de la guayaba. Ahora me siento muy orgullosa del lugar en donde nací y donde vivo porque es un lugar importante. [sic] (Survey 2, Q5, MariaJosé)

Although I was born here in Santander, I did not know it was one of the biggest places for harvesting guavas. I did not know how important Guavatá and Santander are for guava production. Now I can feel proud of the place where I was born and where I live because it is an important place. (Survey 2, Q5, MariaJosé)

In the same way, when asked about what the best part of the curricular units was, another student mentioned that the most outstanding part was the unit related to the intercultural component. He mentioned that he really enjoyed the reflective practice carried out at the end of it. He mentioned that, after carrying out the intercultural activity proposed, the teacher allowed them to talk about it and to share their points of view regarding the exercise.

La parte que mas me gusto de las unidades curriculares fue la parte en la que aprendimos de otras culturas. Al final de esta parte, nos preguntaban acerca de las diferencias y cosas iguales de esa cultura y la de nosotros y yo creo que aprendí nuevas cosas que me pueden servir en el futuro. [sic] (Survey 2, Q 5, WAAP93)

My favorite part of the curricular units was the one in which we learned about different cultures. At the end of this part we were asked to think about similarities and differences between those cultures and our own culture, and I think we learned many new things that can be important for our future. (Survey 2, Q 5, WAAP93)

Another student mentioned that she liked the curricular units because she did not know that people eat guavas in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Ecuador. Students were unaware of the fact that people in other cultures were similar to them.

Si me gusto por que no sabia que brazil, mexico, Ecuador y estados unidos comen la guayaba. Claro que me imagino que en esos países todo se hace de peor calidad porque Colombia es lo mejor. [sic] (Student's answer. Survey 2)

I liked the topic related to the guava because I did not know people in Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador and theUnited States eat Guavas. Off course I imagine that in those countries everything is of wore quality because Colombia is the best. (Student's answer. Survey 2)

At the beginning, students' opinions were characterized by some criticisms regarding the others' cultures. Although they found similar concepts in the texts to what they had experienced in their realities, they could not understand why people behaved in a different way from the manner in which they would have reacted. Students' opinions were based on prejudices and stereotypes. However, after the discussions, the English teacher held with them, they became more aware of cultural differences and they began to understand that people are diverse.

In this sense, Iglesias (1999) suggests that one of the challenges that we as educators have is to let our classrooms be a place to understand, exchange, contrast, and negotiate cultures. In the same token Smith (2003, p. 7) asserts that, just by working with topics, materials, and artifacts that relate to the pupils' own cultural lives, the teacher can move to introduce a greater degree of self-reflection than is normally present.

Conclusions and Pedagogical Implications

Literature related to rural education highlights the need to take into account the specificities in rural education which need to be included in the curriculum. Few research studies reveal the impact of the implementation of pedagogical actions that attempt to cope with these needs. What we pretended with this pedagogical experience was to experience the effect of incorporating students' context in the English instructional materials.

We noticed that curricular units were a step towards strengthening students' sense of cultural belonging. Students reported that they felt the activities in the curricular units helped them reflect upon and value their own culture. Students also mentioned they began developing skills to understand other cultures and so developed intercultural understanding.

In terms of the design of the curricular units, we think that we created an atmosphere that helped learners enjoy their English classes because they could relate the knowledge they had acquired at home to learning English. In this sense, Zuluaga, López and Quintero (2009, p. 40) mention that "teachers must stimulate rural students to value their customs by encouraging them to talk about their surroundings and the richness of their culture. In this way, their English learning becomes more meaningful because the students constantly relate their daily experience to the activities carried out in class."

We do agree with Canagarajah (1999), who mentions that pedagogies need to be appropriated to different degrees in terms of the needs and values of the local communities. In this sense, we think that there is still much to be learned about this community in Guavatá. Although we wanted to focus on these rural eleventh graders' needs through the design of a needs analysis, we still think more information needs to be gathered and analyzed. In such a way, we will be able to make informed decisions that account completely for the needs these students have.

We believe that this experience has helped to create an appreciation for innovation and risk taking. Most importantly, not only we believe that educators and teachers working together in rural areas can create better conditions for students in these areas, but also the rural school students' can improve their English levels and educational conditions.

In relation to the pedagogical implications, we think that educators need to broaden their views regarding their students' culture. In this sense, teachers should avoid stereotypes that may brand their students as "good" or "bad", "poor" or "rich", "gifted" or "less gifted", or any other kind of classification. By doing this, educators would encourage equality in their classes which is a first step to promote intercultural individuals.

Besides eluding stereotypes, teachers should see their students as individuals with specific needs and diverse backgrounds that belong to a certain social groups, more than seeing students as equal members with the same characteristics, needs and interests in the society.

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