Juan Salvador College is a co-ed elementary education institution which is located in San Javier. The school has courses from first to eight year elementary school. They also provide education to kindergarten and pre-school students. The school is located in an urban area so that students from all sectors attend classes there. They have a middle school day, since in the morning fourth from fourth to eight grades have classes and in the afternoon the other grades.
In terms of infrastructure the school has not many classrooms and that impedes the implementation of JEC in this school. They have a computer room and a data projector in every classroom.
The teachers are very young; almost none of them is over thirty years old. The English teacher is in charge of all the levels, since in this school the English language is taught from first year on. Every course has four hour of English a week. The teacher mostly uses the Grammat Translation Method during his lessons, and the students are used to working with the textbook that is chosen by the school.
I worked with the seventh grade of the school. This course is composed by nineteen students who, according to the teacher, are very motivated towards the English language. Obviously the class are in Spanish as well as the participation of the students.
The class and lessons have some problems which will be exposed and explained in the following pages.
The school, especially the course in which I worked presented some pedagogical problems. Next, we will check three problems which I consider are the most serious in this classroom.
I. - The students do not understand the audio recordings that were designed for them and the aural input. The students have many problems with the listening comprehension. They rarely practice this skill with native-like models of English and the sole input they receive is the little amount of vocabulary and pronunciations that are provided for the teacher, who almost the whole class speaks in Spanish. Once, the teacher played some recordings to do a listening test. The test was about fill in some missing words in a short paragraph and to identify what type of conversation the speakers were having. None of the student was able to guess more than three correct answers out of twelve blanks, and a few of them were able to understand that the recording was about a dialogue between two friends. At the end of the class the teacher had to cancel the evaluation of the activity, because it would have been bad for the marks of the students. The recording was from the CD provided by MINEDUC with the public schools textbook of English. Furthermore, with a change of pronunciation the students had many problems to understand the instructions provided by a different teacher.
II. - The students have many problems of pronunciation. The students are unable to pronounce correctly many words in English. The biggest issue is that many words of common use, such as words related with daily life expressions, common verbs, pronoun, adjectives and elementary vocabulary. The students pronounce the words in the way that they are written. For instance, some students pronounce the word you as [jou] instead of [ju:]. These errors are not corrected by the teacher and many of them are produced because of the mispronunciation that the teacher has of some words. This issue may be common in schools, but the problem becomes greater when the students that are able to pronounce almost correctly a big number of words change their pronunciation when hearing other classmate to pronounce the word incorrectly. The mispronunciation of the words is a huge impediment for the communication in the classroom, since some students are unable to understand the incorrect pronounced words.
III. -The Students do not express themselves in English. The students of this class have many problems of communication in English. The students do not express themselves using the target language but they use they use Spanish the whole time in the classroom. Phrases of very frequent use such as I don't know, May I go to the bathroom? or I need a pen are not used during the whole lesson. For the different events that occur in the classroom the students use Spanish, even those times that the teacher is trying to explain an activity in English. Once, I did a TPR activity and all the clarifications were given from one student to the other in Spanish. He was able to understand my instructions and to translate them in English for the rest of his classmates. This issue is given in every part of the lesson. When working in groups the students use Spanish. When asking for help to the teacher or to the helpers they use Spanish. Even when they are offering themselves as volunteer for one activity they raise their hands and say "yo" instead of saying a phrase in English such as me! or I want! This issue does not affect the communication, but it affects the development of their skills in English, since one of the most important parts when learning a language is to use it every time that it is possible.
For the three problems proposed above, next we will propose some solutions for these issues. The following solutions are based on the theories of acquisition of a second language, the theories of learning and methods to teach English, but especially the experiences of teaching English to children of similar age of those with who I worked for twelve weeks.
1.-Problem 1: The students do not understand the audio recordings that were designed for them and the aural input.
During many years in our country, the way of teaching English has been based on the Grammar Translation Method, which main current criticism is based on the assumption of the use of mother tongue to teach a foreign language. Nevertheless, many theories proposes that the students may be in a English context to learn the target language, so that they can receive constant input and output to improve their skills. Following this same idea, I have come up with a webpage that can be easily used by the students to improve their English listening comprehension: http://www.agendaweb.org.
The webpage was designed to contain many links from different other webpages. These links contain material and exercises of every kind of topics in English. However, our focus will be in the section of Listening. These sections are separated according to the level of the students and most of the listening activities provided there are based on tales with transcriptions.
The idea is not to work with these listening activities during some lessons. If the listening does not bring exercises the teacher may provide some handouts with some comprehension questions. It is recommended to start with the first group of links in the section listening we click on the 00 children's stories. In this section, in the lower part, there are some links of some stories which provides vocabulary, transcription and listening. The students may increase the difficulty of the listening activities once they complete some period of practice. As this webpage provides many links, the teacher can also give some homework using the same page. He can just provide the link and the students may practice at home, so that they can be constantly be exposed to regular and comprehensible input.
2.-Problem 2: The students have many problems of pronunciation.
The prescriptive linguistics tells us about the correct way of using the language in terms of grammatical structures and models of pronunciation. Following the same assumption, we can make a relation with the psychological school and experiences of Skinner, Pavlov and others. The solution of this issue is firstly based on the Behaviouristic Theory of learning a language and some principles and assumptions of the Audio-Lingual Method.
The importance of good models of English is very important here and also the repetition of those good models of language. The teacher should base their lesson in the development of proper pronunciations by providing them input with a proper pronunciation. This input may come from different sources such as the same teacher, some videos or recordings or some songs.
A good way for encourage the use of proper pronunciation is to provide the students with the correct model and then make them repeat what the model presents. In this way the teacher is showing first the models of English that are required for the students and they just repeat until they get a proper pronunciation. Drilling activities are recommended here. We can also use backward and forward repetitions so that the students have no problems with those phrases and words that could be difficult for them to produce.
The teacher should also correct the mistakes of his students. There many ways of doing this, so he can apply some of them to get the students to have a proper pronunciation. The most recommended in this particular case to use the teacher-student correction, due to the fact that there have already been many problems with the partner correction and the students have produced an incorrect model of pronunciation. The teacher is in a first opportunity the one who is in charge of providing proper models of pronunciation, as it was already been stated before. In these terms, the teacher should provide the feedback in two ways. Once the student make the mistake, so the teacher corrects right the way and also once the production of the students has already finish. The first way is to avoid the mispronunciation of the rest of the students, but this correction must not obstruct the speaking of the students nor restrain the performance of the student. Here we are not trying to develop fluency, so that this kind of correction is not prejudicial. The second way of correction is useful for all the students, since all of them can take advantage of this opportunity of improvement.
3.- Problem 3: The Students do not express themselves in English.
Following the recommendations of some authors, we want to focus this solution on the assumptions of the teacher should elicit in a first stage the answers from the students. In this way we may resort to the Interactionism and Lev Vitgotsky's Socio-Cultural Theory, especially on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The teacher must help the students to get to a desire stage of development of their English skills. In these terms the teacher should acts as a facilitator for the students and also as an advisor. The language should be taught in real context, so that the students feel comfortable with what they are doing; besides, the langue used in the classroom must be English. This assumptions and principles can be found in the CLT, which will be a good ally in this solution.
Firstly, the teacher should make that the students feel comfortable in the classroom and with their classmates. They have known each other for a while, so there should be no problem of shyness in the classroom caused by the lack of knowing each other.
The important here is to make the student talk in English in order to get communication in the classroom. The teacher should start using English during his classes, so that the students get comfortable with the language. The elicitation of responses from the students is very important, so the teacher should look for any instance in which the students start using English. At first the teacher should teach and present the students a content using all the media possible for the students to understand and then provide them instances of practicing and communicate with this new knowledge they are getting. The students must talk with their classmates even though they produce short sentences. The teacher should always try to put attention to the development of the class in these terms, because at first the student will be dared to use Spanish instead of English.
A good idea in terms of communication is to provide the students with all the tools they need before talking: a lot of practice, a lot of models of language, a lot of feedback, a lot support from the teacher. The teacher should look around for anything that performs the role of a helper of the development of the skills of the students. The use of realistic situations make that the student find the English language meaningful for their lives, so that they can take advantage of what they are learning in the classroom. Once again we find here some concepts related to Krashen's Affective Filter Hypothesis and ZPD. The teacher is in charge of making the classroom comfortable to the students. It seems to be the first principle of this solution. A good idea would be to consider some aspects of suggestopedia, as the first concert in which the students may fell most relaxed and chill out their nervousness.
The proper identification of problems and issues in the classroom is a role that the teacher must always bear in mind. We must never forget that being a teacher of English also implies that we are part the classroom and if the classroom has problems, we are having problems as well.
The reference that we can pick from all the theoretical background that we have must always be our guidance in our performance as teachers. If it is well known that we do not resort to just one theory or method at once, we pick the best of all the theories to make our own way of teaching. In this moment, pieces of information provided in the texts of Kuramavidelu (2001) come to my mind. We must always consider that the students are not all the same. Every class has different characteristics that we must always keep on consideration. Every lesson must be prepared for a specific classroom and for a specific group of people. We cannot assume that all the proposed solutions in this report would work in any classroom of our country. These solutions were thought and proposed for a particular group of children and for a particular teacher.
The observation and the self-reflection of our performance in the classroom are always important to keep in our minds. We cannot think that everything is alright just because we prepared carefully the class. We must observe how it works, if the students are learning, if it is motivating, if it accomplishes our objective. The wish of doing always our best and the will of improvement must always be our guidance and support in all the activities we do.
As a future teacher it is important to consider that it will not always be as perfect as we would want. Nevertheless, if we always put our best on what we are doing with our student we must be sure that all what we do is beneficial for both the students and us as teachers of English.
Activities for every solution:
I.- Solution 1:
The activity may be divided into various stages. He students must use the computer lab of the school and provide their own earphones. Once they are all in a computer they must go to this link and listen to the story: http://www.storytimeforme.com/player/?id=fern12&fs=0. After listening the story three times the teacher provides a sheet of paper with some questions about the comprehension of the audio. This is the first step and the students may continue practicing at home with different audios.
Then, in a different lesson, the students will be asked to recognise a single word of the listening audio. For that they need to browse to this link: http://www.adelescorner.org/listening/holiday/holiday.html and do the activity there.
After some lessons of practicing, the students will be encouraged to use audios with no transcription, so that they will just have to listen carefully. They will be able to listen to this audio three times from which one will be with the transcription and then they will receive a sheet of paper to develop some activities of comprehension. The following link provides many stories to work with http://www.agendaweb.org/listening/all_levels2.html.
The teacher will not use the mother tongue during his whole lesson and during the whole activity. He must encourage the students to use and perform the models provided by him. The meaning necessaries for the lesson will be conveyed by the teacher and using some flashcards with pictures. The teacher will show a flashcard and he will produce the correct model of the phrase or model so that the students repeat afterwards. The practice must continue until the students are able to pronounce the phrases or words given correctly. If the students make a mistake when practicing, the teacher must provide again the proper model of pronunciation, so that the students can hear it well and imitate the pronunciation of the teacher. Afterwards, the students will see the flashcard shown by the teacher and then they will have to say the phrase or word elicited. In case of mistakes, the teacher must correct rapidly, so that the rest of the student do not make the same mistake.
The teacher must be worried for the communication in the classroom, so that he must provide opportunities to get the students to communicate with each other. In this way the students will be able to produce as much English as they can, but the teacher must always be aware of the language they need.