How to create harmony, sense of construction and meaning on what students are learning
Educator due to an election of the soul, she sees plurilingual education as a life conception more than a teaching methodology or a trend. She lived and studied in Europe for 6 years, where she discovered her fascination for languages and different cultures and also where she got technically trained by Cambridge, London and Salamanca Universities. Back to Brazil, she held strategic positions in the managing area of important schools from São Paulo State for more than 18 years. At these schools, she developed personalized bilingual programs, trained different teachers and coordinators and implemented these programs with excellent results. These schools have become reference bilingual schools in the region. Her most recent professional experience abroad has been in Mexico where she was the Bilingual Academic Head Teacher at Colegio Sara Alarcon for 3 years. At present, she is a National Geographic Learning Senior Academic consultant for Latin America and an international consultant on Bilingual Education at Expandir.
She has a degree in Languages and Social Sciences, holds a postgraduate certification in Psycho-pedagogy, and an MBA degree in People Management.
It is undeniable that the pandemic has accelerated many and crucial changes we have been discussing in Language Education. Educators from all around the globe have been reflecting on these changes for more than 20 years, but the circumstances we have been living for one year and a half have forced us to reinvent the Language Education.
At first, we thought it was a matter of translating the face-to-face class to the virtual environment. That is to say that the same practices, strategies, evaluation tools would be applied, now from the screen, mainly because we had the feeling it would take a short time, maybe fifteen days. So, we jumped into all the platforms we could find, and we learnt how to use them all because we thought they were it all.
After this period, we were exhausted because we worked three times the number of hours we used to work creating and recreating activities using technology. What is worst: our students' results did not reflect all our effort, so we started a next stage in which we tried to adapt the face-to-face classroom to the virtual one. We eliminated activities we had been working on for decades in the physical classroom because they were ineffective through the screen or our students now could completely ignore things they always hated doing, but they had no other way. We included others that seem to be appealing, entertaining or just technological to language learners. Six months later, we realized that it was not a matter of translating or adjusting. The virtual or at least hybrid scenario is here to stay, so it is mandatory we reinvent our Language Classroom.
Reinventing the Language Classroom has to do with two main aspects: offering applicability on what students are learning and promoting their agency. There is no way we can keep teaching the 21st century students, or the Netflix generation as they have been named by specialists, with the same strategies we used in the past because what the world expects from them is completely different.
Getting to master the language, understanding grammar rules, or recognizing vocabulary is not enough if we don´t promote situations in which our students will see how to use these language items in order to produce real communication in the target language.
That is why planning has never been more relevant. Planning with intentionality, having a clear goal and knowing exactly how students’ progress will be followed in order to assure that everybody will receive the appropriate practice and content they need to improve their skills is urgent, powerful and fundamental.
Planning involves so much more than selecting the pages of the core book we are going to offer to our students. It requires a strategic view of the learning process and a careful selection of the resources that will support us to achieve the goals we have designed for our students. For this reason, the resources are crucial to bring real examples of speakers and writers that will be competent models for our learners. High quality materials with real and authentic content are an extremely important aspect of our planning in order to create a meaningful and effective learning experience.
As important as all the points mentioned so far is to put the student in the center of this planning. What student do we have in mind when we plan a lesson? Are we still planning classes for language learners when the world is requiring us to prepare language users?
This student we have in our classes right now doesn´t want to wait until the end of the course to use the language. He wants immediate satisfaction, so our planning needs to encompass these principles:
Clear outcomes: the result we want to achieve is where we start our planning! Establishing a concrete expectation and the tools we are going to use to assess the process is mandatory in order to make the best decisions concerning the learning process.
Shared expectations: following students’ interests is not a recipe for success by itself. Of course, it is relevant to listen to what students would like to learn and the topics they like talking about the most, but this diagnosis can´t be the ending point. Once they discover this data, it is the teacher’s role to use this information to create the need for learning. Moreover, sharing expectations with our students will allow them to be co-responsible for their learning process and to have a visible and tangible view of their improvements. In fact, this is the key to engaging and motivating them - when they are able to find this sense of construction and meaning in everything we are presenting in class.
Language practices: after considering these crucial points, it is time to select the activities that will promote this development. In order to bring harmony to our classes and based on authentic practices that stimulate the use of the language, such as oral and written texts, comprehension followed by reflective activities about the language, we promote the enhancement of the possibilities of the language learner. For this reason, conserving the social function of all the proposals we offer to our students is extremely relevant and in all the activities we use must have a real and clear use and context.
As we can notice, keeping the coherence among the student profile we want to educate, the outcomes we plan, the expectations we establish, and finally, the practices we offer is extremely necessary.
Although it may seem obvious, the truth is that most of the time we plan fun, entertaining activities with no harmony among them and, what is worse: ignoring the objective we had in our term syllabus, for example.
Reimagining the language classroom needs to go so much beyond including tech tools or offering more opportunities for students to express themselves orally. We will reach different results when we change the perspective, the mindset, and bring this to light through strategic and intentional planning.
By Amanda Fonseca
Founder and Academic Director at Expandir Consultoria Educacional
National Geographic Learning Senior Academic Consultant for Latin America
Pedagogical Advisor with emphasis on Bilingual Education for private schools in Brazil and Mexico