Teaching EFL to Highlight Students Identity

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1 Article 12 in LCPJ Tabaku, Elida 2009: Teaching EFL to Highlight Students Identity Teaching EFL to Highlight Students Identity Abstract This paper deals with the importance of teaching EFL based on students prior knowledge with the purpose of highlighting students identity. The construction of ESL student identities is to a great extend affected by the ESL teacher identities. The paper describes some various activities that contribute to the cross-language transfer and literacy engagement in a FL class. It also shows how teachers can promote the identity of their students through teaching and learning a foreign language not only for language acquisition, but also for cultural empowerment. Key words: constructing identity, language abilities, interaction, pupils identity, students learning, teaching for transfer and respect, Introduction Communicative language learning creates a very suitable environment for interaction among students and teachers, students and students, thus helping them to learn and use the language for a communicative purpose. Verbal communication is of primary interest to the students who study English as a foreign language. Foreign language teaching and learning is not simply giving and taking knowledge in a given foreign language but much more. It is learning culture and creating their identity. Central to our argument are the inter-related propositions that: EFL students cultural background and L1 language abilities are important resources in their EFL learning EFL students will be actively involved in the learning process when their identities are recognized and activated in learning. Identity construction All meaning is constructed through the interaction between self and other. Identity is not something which exists outside dialogue but it is revealed through interaction with the other. It is brought into being through dialogue and can only exist in this process of interaction with other speaking beings. The interaction between and among people is not only a means of revealing or bringing to the surface the already made character of a person, but also a means through which a person shows himself and develops LCPJ Publishing 18

2 himself in relation to the environment and personal needs. So, it is through interaction that classroom FL speakers, both students and teachers, create their identity. ESL teachers both construct and are constructed by a multiplicity of others teachers, administrators, students and the wider society. ESL students are fundamental to this construction (Brown, online). In the process of interaction students are provided with possibilities for being in a two sided process of identity construction. Student ways of being also define teacher ways of being and other students ways of being. The construction of ESL student identities is affected by the ESL teacher identities. Teachers behave and act, and create their expectations about students based on how they imagine their students to be. Many times the education for EFL students has been reduced to a set of one-sizefits-all teaching techniques focused on transmitting language skills and information to students, without taking into account what cultural knowledge and L1 linguistic abilities students bring to class. Their interests and their cultural background sometimes may have little relevance to what is taught. It is also assumed that students can learn only what has been explicitly taught. These assumptions are in opposition to the ways people learn. In an EFL class the students are not just learning about this novel or that English town, or that grammar or this structure, they also hear about something that happened at school or something that happened at home or something on the news. While teaching ESL teachers help to form not only students identity but their own, as well. This requires an active involvement of the teacher in the contexts within which they work. These contexts include the school, the ESL program, relationships with other staff and, most importantly, the relationship with ESL students. In this multileveled interaction the EFL teachers build their new identity as students leaders with responsibility for both immediate student progress and future success. Teachers impart in their students self-respect and confidence making them study in a safe environment. Teachers train autonomous learners able to be committed to life-long learning. Learner autonomy and teacher autonomy are interdependent, and the teachers who wish to promote greater learner autonomy need to show this autonomy themselves, reflecting it on their own beliefs, practices, experiences and expectations of the teaching/learning situation and taking the right decisions in different situations that arise. A teacher that introduces new things and stimulates creativeness and imagination will be more encouraging and appreciated by his/her students. How students learning occurs When people learn they engage all their prior skills and understandings. Prior knowledge, skills, beliefs, and concepts significantly influence what learners notice about their environment and how they organize and interpret their observations. Prior 19 LCPJ Publishing

3 knowledge refers not just to information or skills previously acquired in a formal lesson but to all the experiences that have shaped the learner s identity and cognitive skills. This principle implies that in classrooms with FL students, teaching must activate students prior knowledge and build new knowledge based on it. This will be successful when students take active control over the learning process and when they are engaged in a student centered class. In this learning environment students develop the ability to take control of their own learning, consciously define learning goals, and monitor their progress in achieving them. When students take ownership of the learning process and invest their identities in the outcomes of learning, the resulting understanding will be deeper than when learning is passive. Teaching for Transfer and Respect Based on the nature of learning, EFL teachers should build on students pre-existing knowledge, aim for deep understanding of issues and content, and encourage students to self-regulate and take ownership of the learning process. Students prior knowledge is their L1. In addition, they own a variety of skills and strategies which imply that teachers should explicitly teach for transfer of concepts and skills from L1 to English. Bransford (2000) states: It is important to view transfer as a dynamic process that requires learners to actively choose and evaluate strategies, consider resources, and receive feedback. This active view of transfer is different from more static views, which assume that transfer is adequately reflected by learners abilities to solve a set of transfer problems right after they have engaged in an initial learning task. Activities for cross-language transfer and literacy engagement in a FL class The FL teacher uses a variety of activities in class. Here we are presenting some that we have found effective in teaching English as a FL. Language games Tabaku, Elida 2009: Teaching EFL to Highlight Students Identity Language games can help point out that certain behaviors, like the acceptance of mixing both genders in one class, tolerance, negotiations are important in the pupils lives now and in their adult lives in their future. Pre-prepared dialogues are useful, too. Many times pupils think they know others in class because they see them every school day. But there are many things about the classmates that they probably don t know. So, pupils are asked to make a list of questions to ask pupils they don t know very well. Then they are asked to interview them using their questions. They discover many things they knew nothing about as how they spend their spare time, what three wishes they would make, what books they read, how they study, and so on. Doing this the interviewers can reflect on their own likes, hobbies etc.. As a conclusion to this activity each of the pupils might introduce the person they interview to the class. LCPJ Publishing 20

4 Role plays Role-plays require more imagination by pupils and teacher and can be difficult to manage because they are unpredictable. The initial scenario develops from the pupils interacting with each other and can literally go in any direction. This gives pupils practice in a non-threatening environment, and gives the motivation and involvement where they have to think in English. Role-plays are interesting, memorable and engaging, and pupils retain the material they have learned. In their new roles, students drop their shyness and other personality and cultural inhibitions, making them one of the best tools available for teaching a foreign language. Learners are encouraged to bring their own knowledge and experience to the classroom and to personalize the language they learn. Interaction with other speakers is seen as a significant means to acquire the target language, and emphasis is laid on moving learners from meaningful practice of target forms and functions to related but unrehearsed language practice. With the shift from teacher-centered to learner-centered classrooms, both learners and teachers roles have been revolutionized. Learners are seen as active and responsible participants in the language learning process, while teachers have become facilitators towards learner independence in the target language. Role-plays are a powerful tool for cross-language transfer, for activating students prior knowledge and for identity construction. Students are assigned roles which reflect their everyday life. A good example of a role play for pre-intermediate level was Speaking on the phone. Though mobiles are common in the students hands there are many skills they lack. The aim of this activity was not simply to practice the language taught, but to make them transfer telephone speaking skills from Albanian into English and reflect on the skills they lacked. The pupils were given cards where the stages of the role play were explained to help telephone communication. The steps were: Introduce yourself Ask for the person you want to talk to. Thank the person putting you through. Talk to your friend Soon they managed to make unexpected true to life dialogues with accompanying gestures and behaviours. With older pupils we may use discussions which help students learn how to deal with difficult situation they may happen to be in, to make decisions, predict, encourage people etc. The best source of topics and ideas are the students themselves. Creating identity texts Identity texts refer to products of pupils creative work or performances carried out in the class. Students invest their identities in the creation of these texts which can be written, spoken, visual, dramatic, or combinations in multimodal form. The identity 21 LCPJ Publishing

5 text then holds a mirror up to pupils in which their identities are reflected back in a positive light. When pupils share identity texts with multiple audiences (peers, teachers, parents, grandparents, sister classes, the media, etc.) they are likely to receive positive feedback and affirmation of self in interaction with these audiences. These texts are done by students after some classes where the teacher discusses with them about what they think of themselves trying to make them have a positive attitude to themselves. At the same time the teacher provides them with the necessary vocabulary to be used for personality description. Parents became collaborators with their children and the teacher in creating identity texts that affirm not only the students intelligence, imagination, and talents, but also the funds of knowledge available in the community. Involving parents in this kind of activity also transforms the kinds of role that parents could play in their children s education. Literacy activities Tabaku, Elida 2009: Teaching EFL to Highlight Students Identity Creating a library corner in the English classroom is seen as an opportunity for the students to improve their English literacy and to promote multicultural understanding. Reading materials such as English readers, magazines and newspapers are put in this corner and they are assigned for extensive reading to the class in groups. The class is divided in mixed abilities groups and they are explained the goals of this activity. They are to develop their language skills, their critical reading skills and to construct their identity in the framework of the multiculturalism. Reading material is assigned according to topics of interest. A very interesting activity was one organized with the students of the 9-th class in Kongresi i Lushnjes school, Lushnje. The project subject was about teenage culture in Albania and the USA. It was based on reading and discussing articles from a teen magazine. Some articles were provided by the pupils from online magazines. Initial sessions were focused on oral communication in Albanian and English. As a starter the flow of conversation of these early sessions was directed by the teacher. In the beginning, there were periods of silence, but later all the barriers were overcome and the project took on a life of its own. Conversation became natural and comfortable. Culture-specific dialogues were created. For example, when teenage culture in Albania and the United States was explored, recognition of similarities and differences clarified false assumptions and generalizations. Many of them have teenage cousins living in the USA, so they brought real experience. Others did research in the net. Following the oral communicative stage, the group moved on to reading in English. Following the reading of each article, students translated the article in their own words, then each student provided an individual interpretation of the article in English. Students agreed to keep a journal to record their observations of differences and to LCPJ Publishing 22

6 reflect on whether these differences were cultural. This served as a springboard to multicultural understanding. Finally, journal writing was introduced in class and was published in the school board. The published work was the result of group work. It included summaries of the texts, essays, compositions, verses and posters. Through journal writing, a sense of developing friendships was observed. This activity raised their self awareness. Noticeable, also, was the interaction of these students as they met between classes and in the hall-ways, as they wanted to discuss on their journal and reading texts. It helped them to be mote aware of their own identity, as well. Conclusion We have attempted to highlight the problematic nature of identity construction with respect to current policies and practices regarding the education of EFL students. The process of identity negotiation is reciprocal. In the process of teaching both EFL teachers and students create their own identity. A teacher who supports and appreciates interaction in the language class can help to promote identity construction of her/ his students. Students identity will be highlighted when teachers know how students learn and when they help them to transfer their skills from L1 to FL. We have shown how the students learning and acquisition is promoted when teachers connect with students in active interaction through activities as role playing, games, and discussions on problems that concern the students. The development of skills in using the library and its resources is an essential part of learning English. An English corner in the classroom paves the way for loving reading all their life. Many teachers understand that human relationships are the key to teaching/learning success. Students achievements will increase significantly only when teachers know how to tap into the students deep knowledge and their infinite learning capabilities. Treating them positively and as promising capable individuals will be a sound basis for motivation towards their continuous progress. References Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L, & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind,experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Brown, J : The Self-Defining Other ESL Teachers Talk about their Students retrieved from 23 LCPJ Publishing

7 Guthrie, J. T. 2004: Teaching for literacy engagement. Journal of Literacy Research, 36, Krashen, S. D. 2004: False claims about literacy development. Educational Leadership, 61(6), Little, D. 1995: Learning as dialogue: The dependence of learner autonomy on teacher autonomy. System, 23(2), McCaleb, S.P. 1997: Building communities of learners: A collaboration among teachers, students, families, and community, NJ: Erlbaum. Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. 1992: Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), Smith, R.C. 2000: Starting with ourselves: Teacher-learner autonomy in language learning. In Sinclair, B., McGrath, I., and Lamb, T. (Eds.). Learner autonomy, teacher autonomy: Future directions (pp ). Harlow, UK: Longman. The total number of words is 2609 LCPJ Publishing 2009 by Elida Tabaku Dr. Elida Tabaku, (Ph.D. in Teaching in 1996), is the Head of the English Department of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Tirana, Albania. She has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer and university professor. Her fields of interest are Reading analysis, Applied Linguistics, EFL teaching Methodology, Psycholinguistics, Testing and Evaluation. She has published articles on errors and mistakes, testing in EFL, the role of the teacher in a student centered class, critical and creative thinking, etc. She is also a co-author of university books. LCPJ Publishing 24

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