Getting Rid of Restrictions Caused by Teaching English with Text-books and Test Store Books

Author:

Yura Ganjalyan

For years I have refused to use the English text-books intended for the state bublic schools in Armenia as they do not promote language communicative skills, and in 2014-2015 school year I gradually ceased to use any foreign textbook relying only on the constructive principle of pedagogy, free usage of infinite content of the Internet and on the project based teaching of the language. 

During the whole school year I have tried to keep to the pedagogical approaches mentioned in  the subject syllabus of teaching English at our High School-gymnasium.

Project based student centered teaching        

According to the traditional teaching-learning process the learner was given, explained to, transformed ready-made knowledge, and the learner was expected to “give it back” during the knowledge checking reviews or exams. If the learner gave back what he/she had taken, it was considered that the knowledge had been assimilated and it would never be forgotten. Duteous students, of course, learn some chapter from a novel which is printed in a text-book, however big it is, so that they will be able to retell it when asked and get a high mark. But after a few days that text with its rarely used words is forgotten. The result is only the desired mark in the “over worshiped” class register which very vaguely shows the real level of the student’s knowledge and skills. The main axis of educational reforms is transformation to constructive education, to student centered education, to individualization of educational processes and problems. There haven’t been created text-books which might be appropriate to this principle, or maybe they shouldn't create any text-books at this stage of developed high technology, and we should be satisfied with teachers' guides on organization of teaching-learning process.

Learning become much more interesting and acquires the desired sense when the learner himself guesses, creates and narrates what is worth knowing and doing. Project based, student centered teaching-learning process has just this purpose.   

What did I start with and how did I organize theproject based teaching-learning process without text-books?

In this article I will only consider the work done with the students of Grade 11 during the  2014-2015 school year. First of all I have got to confess that project based teaching-learning can be effective only in the 1+1 educational environment with note-books/net-books when the classroom is provided with high quality Internet connection. At the beginning it was very difficult. I even searched for and found an article describing the challenges of such educational environment “Are One-to-One Laptop Programs Worth the Investment?” , translated into Armenian and got very happy because that article justified the difficulties I had come across. But there was a sort of retreat and refusal in that article which is contraindicated in our Educomplex. Continuing my searches I found an effective method of teaching-learning process which could significantly overcome those difficulties. That was the “Flipped Class” method which was described in Cynthia J. Brame’s article “Flipping the Classroom”.  And I translated this article into Armenian giving my own interpretations.

Why did I translate this article? Having worked in the 1 to 1 note-book/net-book classrooms for almost a year I came to the conclusion that we should entirely get rid of the teaching methods which have always been known to be true and the most effective ones. For example, I understood that it was extremely useless to explain something new in the classroom, to teach with drill exercises and to assimilate the new material with questions and answers, to give a home assignment at the end of the lesson. This teacher centered way of conducting lessons demands that the learners should be very attentive, and just because of that this old method isn’t working nowadays. As prince Hamlet would say, “…here is metal more attractive”, which is note-book/net-book connected to the Internet. And while trying to find a way out of that difficult situation, for the first time I made an attempt to introduce the new material in my blog. The learner reads the explanation of the new material at home spending on it an amount of time which corresponds to his capabilities. In fact each learners spends the amount of time which is necessary for him to understand and assimilate the new material, and that amount of time differs from learner to learner. A learner, who has less language competency, spends more time on it than a learner who has more language competency, and the desired result is that all the learners understand and assimilate the new material. On the next day the learners work on the assimilation of the new language constructions with their personal note-books/net-books at their own speed of material assimilation. I come up to the learners, watch them work, ask them questions. The teaching-learning process has entirely become student centered and individual. I have found out that this way of teaching-learning process has its own name “Flipped”. It is called “flipped” because what was done in class before now is done at home, and what was done at home before, now is done in class.

 In this way I overcame the difficulty of introducing and teaching new language structures to my students. The next step of passing on to project based teaching-learning process is the selection of topics or themes.

The topics for projects correspond to the topics mentioned in the foreign language teaching subject syllabuses also taking into account the educational calendar of the Educomplex.              

The following topics were chosen and implemented in the 2014-2015 school year:

The first term

1.      Top ten important discoveries in the history of mankind

2.      We raise our voice against war after having read Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Old Man Near the Bridge”.

3.      Means of mass media

4.      Are parents best teachers?

5.      Crime and punishment

6.      Tolerance

The second term

1.      A dialogue with the doctor

2.      Educational systems in the USA, United Kingdom and Armenia

3.      The political system in Armenia

4.      Armenian national holidays and festivals

5.      Should secondary 12-year education be compulsory?

6.      Ecology, environmental problems and nature protection

7.      How do I understand the second chapter of our Constitution about human fundamental rights?                   

We can see that there is a small deviation from the list of topics mentioned in the subject syllabus of the 2014-2015 school year. That is because project based teaching-learning is always connected with the events which occur in our lives, in our country and in the world. For example, we took up the topic “Tolerance” after the well-known events in Paris, and the short story “The Old Man Near the Bridge” by Hemingway became topical because of the tense situation on Armenian Azerbaijanian borderline. The new law on education made us start the short term project “          Should secondary 12-year education be compulsory?”      

The primary idea

Before beginning a short term project on each topic I reveal the primary idea of the given topic, and we discuss it orally. The learner shoud realize the importance of speaking on that topic, exchanging opinions and acting in the right way. For example, before beginning the project “How I understand our Constitution” we read “The second chapter of Armenian Constitution: Fundamental human and civil rights and freedoms”, and I highlighted the importance of knowing the human rights written in our Constitution.     

Creating teacher-learner, learner-learner situational dialogues, searching for meaning in the contents

After having clarified the primary idea we create different situational dialogues on the given topic. These oral dialogues and discussions play a guiding role for the learners when they later begin searching for information. They also increase the learners' interest in the given topic. When the learners are fairly interested in the given topic, I suggest that they should search for relevant materials, articles on the Internet. Any text-book is uncompetitive when it is compared with the possibilities of the Internet. In a short period of time the learners search for and find relevant articles with comparatively fewer new words and simpler language. After reading the material the learners begin copying out the new words and thematic vocabulary. After doing that the learners begin narrating their own ideas and opinions on the given topic in written form in their blogs.

The learners themselves make conclusions in English. Their opinions are of great importance.

The learners summmarize each topic by publishing their opinions in their blogs which. The learners then are to defend or justify their own opinions orally. The best opinions are published on the English page of our school website.  

Conclusion

Project based way of teaching-learning English and individualization of learning process helps to make the lessons more interesting and comprehensive. Learners acquire the skills of of using resources in foreign languages, expressing their own opinions orally and in written form. They are also given a real opportunity to enlarge their world outlook. Education and the result of education are individualized. Each learner works according to his/her individual capabilities and his/her own speed of assimilating the material to be learned without disturbing others. During one and the same lesson one learner may be presenting and defending his/her point of view orally; the second student may be busy writing down his/her own opinion, and the third one may not yet have completed the work of searching for necessary information; the fourth student comes up to me every other minute and asks me a question in order to be sure that he is on the right way. The fifth student needs to be reproached and confuted because he has his own historically grounded opinion on every idea and wants to express it only in Armenian in a very loud voice. From the point of view of a traditional teacher our lesson can't be considered to be a good lesson. Yes, this is not an ordinary lesson. This is educational work done by the learners who are engaged in implementing an educational project.                         

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