Contextualized teaching and learning

A lot has been written in the ESL literature about taking into account the social and cultural context of the learners, however very little has been said about the pedagogical implications of contextualized teaching and learning. Education has never been a sterile endeavor, separated from society or from the culture in which it takes place. In fact, the purpose of education is to form responsible, highly skilled members of society hence the idea that cultural and social values do not belong in the classroom is proving to be unrealistic and even detrimental to the success of the teaching and learning process. Nevertheless, incorporating cultural and social knowledge in education remains a challenge particularly in an era of intense globalization and massive standardization. This challenge is even greater in the case of English language teaching where oftentimes internationally published teaching and learning materials have to be adapted to the local context. So how can an international language be taught effectively by incorporating the local context? Here are a few ideas:

a) Go “glocal”. This means that international materials can be adapted to the context by association, comparison and contrast. Thus when a global issue such as pollution for example is discussed it can be referred to as both a global and a local problem by providing examples from the international and local arena.

b) Develop a cultural awareness.  As educators we have the duty to keep educating ourselves about the culture and society we work in. This in turn helps students relate to the issues we bring to the classroom and enhances their motivation and involvement. It also ensures the building of good rapport between teacher and learners.

c) Go for gradual exposure. Education is about learning new things and broadening minds but this cannot happen overnight. Research into retention in learning has shown that activating prior knowledge also known as schemata is the first step in introducing new ideas and involving learners in discussions on global issues.

Finally, learners are very much anchored in the 21st century which means they expect more from their educators in terms of individual attention, knowledge of their learning styles and the use of technology. Education is no longer about knowledge but about what one does with knowledge, how it is used towards one’s personal and social development. Learners have the right to know why what they are being taught is important or why it should matter to them hence grounding education in a local context while keeping a global outreach is the way forward. Contextualizing teaching and learning is about remembering that we, either educators or learners are ultimately citizens of the world, the different bits and pieces of a global tossed salad  and not the unidentifiable ingredients of a melting pot.

Using Google Docs to give instant feedback to English language students

Live comments on a document

Live comments on a document

In a recent classroom session, Mohammad Tanveer (referred to as Tanveer), one of our lecturers teaching English Language to foundation level students (usually native Arabic speakers) used Google docs to facilitate a writing activity. Prior to the session, Tanveer put the students into groups and created a document shared with each group (we use Google Apps for Education, so students already had accounts). They were assigned a topic “Poverty” and given a few pointers to inspire their writing. The students then worked on individual computers, but on their group documents.

As the groups were constructing their documents, Tanveer sat at a computer with all the group documents open in different tabs. He was constantly switching between these documents to check the progress and adding comments to highlight any mistakes. These comments would pop up instantly in front of the students, and they would make the correction and click on the comments “resolve” button to make it go away. Tanveer could see the corrections being made live on his screen, often before he had finished writing the next comment.

This activity meant students could receive instant feedback on their writing, make corrections and in the course of the session create a document of grammatically correct English. The added advantage of this approach is it encouraged students to keep writing because they knew their progress was being monitored.

Overall this was a very successful session; however it was not without its challenges. It was the first introduction to Google Docs for most of the students, so there was a slight learning curve, and it took a bit of time to get going waiting for them to get over the novelty of seeing multiple cursors simultaneously writing a document!