I started teaching in 1977. The first book I used as a teacher was Look, Listen and Learn, by L. G. Alexander. Can you imagine learning just by looking and listening? Somehow students managed to learn.
ELT has changed a lot since those early days and technology has played its part.
When I was a student, cassettes were not used in my classes. There were tapes and we had to go to the lab to do speaking practice, mostly repetition. The cassette player inside the classroom brought the voices of native speakers, awesome. But still it was not real language.
VCRs came quite late to Argentina. I started using them in 1984. I remember the remote control was wired! Students could watch those awful videos developed as part of EFL courses or they could watch real films. Real language was introduced in the classroom, real communication was still missing.
Even though were structured our classes around a communicative approach, all of my students could speak Spanish, so whatever we did in the classes -no matter
how communicative it was intended to be, was artificial.
English in everyday life
Walkmas (Walkmen?) and Cable television were late comers, too. I mention them
together because their extended used resulted in a strong development of the
students’ listening skills. Real communication was still absent.
Classroom borders start to blur.
Around 1998 I started to communicate with students via emails and to provide them with links. Not everyone had an email account; consequently I didn’t consider that as part of my classes. It was just an extra resource that could provide some language practice; but, most of all, it was a tool to link the members of a group which otherwise only had some personal interchange during the class. For the first time I felt the class had stepped beyond the classroom borders.
By that time adult students had also started to email and to have more and more frequent phone conversations in English at work. They started to feel a real, every day need to communicate. English became more meaningful.
Teenagers had discovered MSN and begun to have some sort of communication in English with speakers of other languages.
That was real change. Technology had opened the doors to the world and that world used English to communicate. Still this communication took place outside the classroom.
The integration of Social Media to EFL comes naturally. No need to force the tools to fit the curriculum. No need to force the curriculum to fit the tools. They do provide a lot of real language practice and even take them further: students get rid of their “language learner” status. They plunge into global English. English becomes a skill.
Some bricks in the wall
Access to technology digs an ever widening gap between social classes, and between poor and rich countries. Access to computers at school could be a step towards closing the digital divide.
At least here in Argentina the state doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction and even students who belong to quite privileged social classes have contact with computers at school in the computer lab. Paper, ink, whiteboard, inside the classroom. Computers, outside. Computer Science as a subject. School administrators do not seem to understand we should help students develop 21st century skills.
If one of those skills is using English to communicate the divide widens even more. I live in a country where there are 69.302 less secondary school students than in 2002. Do they speak English? How well do they speak Spanish?
Economical inequality, state inefficiency and conservative attitudes are hard bricks to pull down. They certainly hinder the possibility of full literacy acquisition.
Welcome to the Real World
Far away are the times of Look Listen and Learn. Our role as teachers is being redefined; moreover, our role as EFL teachers is changing.
When we open our classroom, we take our students to a world quite different from Alexander’s stories of children eating banana sandwiches and absent minded professors. They have to work out how to communicate with real people from different cultures sharing the same language . Real language, real communication.
I hope they notice those blanks in the map stats.
And hopefully, if the education system starts to emphasize learning rather than teaching, we –teachers and students- will be able to pull down those hard bricks.
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