The last time I taught English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) was in the early 2000s – after qualifying I taught adults, youth and children English in a range of contexts. Adults who came as refugees and wanted English for survival, English for further study, English to rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I taught youth who needed English language skills to complete their schooling, to improve their prospects, to access the opportunities available in Australia and the wider English speaking world. I worked with children who were struggling with the expectations (and too often ignorance) shown by teachers who expected them to know the same world (and ways of thinking/knowing) that all the other kids were familiar with having grown up in an English speaking country.
So I have been a bit concerned about ‘updating’ my knowledge as to what might have changed since this time in terms of what and how to work with those for whom English is an additional/other language. I’ve asked about ‘new’ ideas, strategies, theories, techniques. And I’ve been shown (basically) the same materials and theory that I learnt in my TESOL studies of the 1990s. I went to the library and checked out the resources. For goodness sake, what has changed? Where have we got to?
Since I was a TESOL practitioner, I have worked in Curriculum and Pedagogy. My initial TESOL training has been crucial to my pedagogical approach – that is, learners are all different, learners all come from a particular time/place/context/background. I took on a critical perspective – English as an ‘international language’;’formal’ English as a tool of discrimination and of imperialism; English as communication over accuracy; literacy skills being quite different from English language skills; and the importance of languages other than English in terms of identity and culture. Good pedagogy is about effective communication across differences, and no single teacher will be the one to succeed with every student individual.
Constructivism is a concept that not all educators will align themselves with. But for me, constructivism means building on what one already knows. Learning a foreign language is about building on what one already knows – learning other ways of expressing what you know, and using this as a form of communication. Learning through doing, learning through play, learning through purpose and shared interests – is this so radical?
Maybe I’m deluded, but I can’t see a whole lot of ‘new’ out there in TESOL/TEFL land. Love to know what others think… And of course, look forward to seeing how my ideas might go down in Laos… First I have a lot of listening/observing/reflecting to do… I’m recording my thoughts here for the purpose of revisiting this once I become immersed…