What our school is missing: Nurturing real-life skills.

As the Moroccan economy is steadily becoming service-based,  new real-life skills and competencies are needed in the job market. However, the reform in the teaching of foreign languages is not yet addressing the needs of 21st century learners.

Despite what is claimed in many official documents (including the docoments that have been issued by the Ministry of National Education and by the Supreme Council)  and the statements made in many press conferences, the teaching of English as  a foreign language still adheres to traditional paradigmes.

Recently,  “Mr. Rachid Benmoukhtar, Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, emphasized that foreign languages (…) are necessary to improve future generations’ opportunities to access the job market and enhance Morocco’s competitiveness in a constantly changing world”(here). The goals that are made in this statement are not new. Similar statements have been made starting from the year 2000 (the National Charter on Education and Training)  up to the last two school years (the Strategic Vision and the accompanying documents).

Although I totally agree with the minister concerning the view that schools should prepare the kids for the job market and make them competitive citizens , the basic question that has neither been asked nor answered is: What have we done in our education to target the aim that is broadly outlined by the minister?

In this permanently changing world, I see that there is a huge gap between what the official statements/documents claim and what is happening in our schools. The ministry of education has taken certain measures to enhance and reinforce the teaching of languages (I am speaking in this blog only about English as a foreign language) such as the adoption of International and Vocational Streams for the Moroccan Baccalaureate. On the ground, however, almost nothing seems to be changing for various reasons. First, the teachers are still using the same textbooks, the same teaching materials (the chalk and the board) and mainly the same curriculum and syllabus.tests

Similarly, for the enhancement of language teaching in our schools, the assessment procedures have to change. It’s nonesense to claim that the teaching of English aims at developing certain communicative competencies while the assessment procedures still adhere to traditional, discrete point, paper and pencil tests.

You cannot compete globally with traditional 20th century (or earlier) skills. The world has changed and the global (as well as the Moroccan) economy is changing fast. New life skills are required. Today, individuals need different social, affective, communicative and thinking skills. It’s unfortunate to say that you cannot achieve this (no matter what) with the current situation in Moroccan schools. Today’s English language learners need to develop the globally required life-skills along with language communicative competencies. Such skills include, but are not limited to, the following:


If you think about what our kids are learning these days in our EFL classes (maybe in our schools), you won’t find almost any of the above skills. Our curricula/syllabi heavily focus on the rote memorization of facts and rules. Our EFL language classes testify this. We still execcively highlight learning the rules of ‘the past perfect’, ‘the conditionals’, ‘the passive’…. We go over the reading comprehension texts with no attempt to train the learners on any target reading strategy, etc,. Our tests (as already mentioned) are of the true or false type.

Learning in such a way might have served its purpose in a different era. Today, the world has changed and so our school/teaching should be. Such traditional teaching systems foster only adherence to rules, followng instructions and manual guidelines, memorizing nontransferable facts and seeing the world only as either black or white. This of course cannot increase students’ opportunities to easily access the job market. To be global citizens and to access the job market requires the development of the already mentioned and other real-life skills.

Pedagogically speaking, the teaching of English in Moroccan schools  needs to integrate the development of language competencies (such as talking about past events, describing a process, writing a coherent paragraph, etc,…) with other real-life skills (such as those listed above). At the level of implementation this is not a complex or difficult task. It requires, however, afollowing a strategic, clear and goal-oriented process:

  1. The national curriculum is the area to start with (note that I am adopting the definitions of the curriculum and the syllabus as stated in  Course Design). We should have a unified, clear and consise curriculum. This curriculum should state the broad goals of teaching the Moroccan learners. Hence, targetting the real-life skills like the ones stated above should be a goal of the cross-subject area curriculum.  An imporant aspect of the curriculum which is, unfortunately, missing in our educational system is a clear-cut profile of the learners at each level. Designing a national curriculum certainly requires outlining the target profile of the learners.
  2. A second step is related to the design of the EFL syllabus (the syllabus we are concerned with here). Expecting to promote the teaching of foreign languages, as
    stated in the Strategic Vision,  with the currently available curriculum/syllabus is simply an unrealistic goal. The ministry is supposed to start from reforming the current syllabus in a way which would allow it to include real-life skills. There are various classroom activities which can embed such real-life skills including presentational speaking activities, project-based tasks, case studies, etc,. As already said concerning the overall profile of the Moroccan learners, we should have a clear foreign language profile of the Moroccan learners. This profile shall include the target communicative and other real-life skills which the learner should develop by the end of each grade level.
  3. Once the specification of the target real-life skills is outlined in the national cross disciplinary curriculum and the EFL (subject-specific) syllabus, materials writers should think of activities which target both EFL specific skills (reading skills, grammar, etc,.) as well as real-life skills. Such activities should no longer be of the ‘fill in the blanks type’.
  4. To prepare the learners for the ever-changing world and for the emerging ‘social’ (because it relies mainly on being creative, sharing, collaboration etc,. instead of executing simple tasks in an assembly line) job market, today’s classroom activities should be open for multiple solutions, promote creativity, sharing, working together to PRODUCE common knowledge (e.g, preparing a project, designing  a poster, preparing a multimedia presentation,acting out a play etc,.) instead of activities which heavily rely on reproducing/recasting what the teacher has presented (e.g, rewrite the sentences starting with ‘if’).
  5. It is of equal importance to briefly mention that targetting the development of real-life skills in the teaching of EFL requires a shift in the focus of our assessment systems. You cannot ask a teacher to focus on ‘collaboration’ in communication while your tests simply ask the leraners to ‘add the appropriate prefix to the words’. Real authentic assessment requires involving learners in joint-effort, collaborative projects (similar to the ones they are doing while learning). I am not undermining the testing of language skills such as the ‘use of ‘will’ to talk about the future’. This should happen in a natural context, in as much as the way it takes place in real-life. These micro language competencies can be assessed while observing the performance of the learners in real-life tasks. The development of ‘observation’ rubrics should go along with teaching.

To conclude, if we really want to promote the teaching/learning of foreign languages, prepare our learners for the future, and make them ready for a highly competitive world, the (near)future of English in the Moroccan schools should be totally different from what it is now. The Startegic Vision might be considered as an overall perspective. Without having (at least) a clear syllabus and a clear learner profile, targetting the aims outlined in the Vision appears useless.

We need to transform the teaching of English in our schools from:

  1. grammar-based to skill-based classes,
  2. focusing on teaching reading texts to a focus on training the learners on reading strategies,
  3. focusing on memorizing rules and forms to using them in MEANINGFUL situations (plays, discussions, debates, etc, )
  4. focusing on Practice exercises to stressing APPLICATION and INTEGRATION in real-life tasks (e.g, a presentation/ a role play/ a study project),
  5. focusing on exams and tests to focusing on skill development,
  6. adopting pure language-skill classes to adopting multiple-real life skill classes.
  7. adopting individual-based to collective and collaborative tasks.

Fundamental Principles for Language Teaching

No matter what language skill a teacher is targeting, there are certain basic principles that should govern the teaching of EFL in language classes. The principles that are dealt with in this article should be taken into consideration throughout the process of materials preparation to the actual teaching and implementation of the syllabus in the classroom.

The principles are based on the theories of learning, mainly the constructivist theory, the current approaches and methods to language teaching and the currently adopted principles of syllabus design and materials development.


Variety in the teaching approach is a prerequisite for successful teaching in language classes. By approaching the tasks and the activities differently, the teacher ensures that he/she’s meeting the needs of the different learner styles within the class. Having said this, all teaching should be within the communicative (in the broadest sense of communicative) sphere; that is to say, no matter what method you adopt as a teacher, the learners should aim towards the use of the target structure or function or skill in authentic real-life situations.


Whatever the approach is, teaching should lead the learners towards the ultimate use of the target structure, function, and notion or vocabulary item for meaningful and authentic communicative purposes. For this reason, specifying the target competencies for any lesson should be in the form of performance outcomes like ‘by the end of this lesson, students should be able to express/ ask for/ use/ say/ etc…’. Focus should also be on equipping the learners with real-life competencies such as ‘finding relevant information’, ‘delivering an effective presentation’, ‘compensating for lack of a word in an interaction’…


Having said (in different contexts) that the teaching of grammar and language functions should be text-based, the teacher’s role in the teaching of these two components should be that of a facilitator. The teacher should plan text-based lessons and guide the learners to notice the target structure/functions in the text. Then, the learners discover both the form(s) and the use(s) of the target structure/function. Adopting a discovery-based approach to the teaching of language enhances the learners’ autonomous learning, and trains them to, independently, understand the unfamiliar language in its further real-life situations.


All the content that is embedded within the lesson should be theme-related. The theme is at the center of all the skills. Therefore, whatever skill the teacher is dealing with should evolve around the same theme. In addition to the reading/listening texts, the grammar and functions lessons should also start from theme-based authentic materials. The topics that are to be dealt with in writing tasks should be theme-centered as well.


Linking the teaching of English to other disciplines/cultures enhances both language learning and cultural awareness. By linking English to other subject matters, you tap on the learner’s already existing schemata. This facilitates further learning, and boosts the learner’s confidence to use English by talking about subjects/topics they already know. It is also necessary to link language teaching to other aspects of local or global cultures. This brings language to the heart of real-life communication.


Teaching reading, listening and writing should move from testing-like classes towards a more focus on strategy training. Teachers are invited to raise the learners’ awareness to the type of strategy which is appropriate for the target sub-skill. It is recommended that teachers talk about strategies explicitly, model them, and subsequently ask the learners to practice their use. Each reading/listening or writing lesson should focus on the practice of one or two strategies at a time.




























The teaching of listening comprehension

As listening is an integral part of language as a system of human communication, it should be a compulsory and integral component of any language teaching syllabus . The ELT syllabus should focus on the teaching of real-life listening strategies that are involved in daily human interactions. For procedural purposes listening comprehension lessons should follow the steps below:

1.  The preparation stage

The teacher is invited to select only one or two sub-listening skills as suggested in the syllabus. For the effective achievement of the goals stated for listening comprehension, the teacher should be aware of what each sub-skill is and what is involved in its teaching. Focus on one sub-skill at a time ensures the spiral progression of the practice of the sub-skills.

2.  The execution stage

The listening comprehension lessons should follow three main stages:

  • Pre-listening:

The main objective of the pre-listening stage is to activate the students’ schemata and make them ready for the listening activities. Activating background knowledge should be taken as a listening sub-skill in itself. For this reason, ‘activating background’ knowledge should be an integral part of every listening lesson. The teacher is invited to vary the strategies used to activate the learners’ background knowledge from lesson to lesson. Pre-listening activities include:

  • Group brainstorming.
  • Pair-work interactions (on a topic related to the topic of the listening lesson).
  • Whole class discussions/debates.
  • Think-Pair-Share.
  • Poser sessions.
  • Portfolio discussion.
  • Oral presentations.
  • Video-watching , etc…

Any of the activities above could serve as pre-listening activities for the listening comprehension lessons.

  • While-listening:

This stage should deal with the development of the target competency. Each listening comprehension lesson focuses on training the learners on one or two listening strategies.  Being aware that listening skills, like reading skills, cannot be developed over one session or even one year of instruction, it is preferable to state the objective of the listening comprehension lesson in the form of a ‘training’ objective. That is to say, the teacher can say, for instance: ‘by the end of this lesson, the learners will have training in scanning for specific information / skimming for the gist.

It is assumed that strategy training should be the main focus of each listening-comprehension lesson. Therefore, the learners should be instructed on how to practice the target skill. For this to happen, the teacher is invited to move from simple skills to those which require more cognitive involvement on the part of the learners.These steps can be followed for strategy training in listening comprehension:

  • Select one listening comprehension strategy at a time. (e.g. in Unit 1: making predictions about the listening passage/ scanning).
  • Name the target strategy and state it as the objective of the listening lesson.
  • Model it using the same listening passage or a different one.
  • Allow the learners to practice it.
  • Provide scaffolding to the learners as they are practicing the strategy.
  • Allow the learners to independently practice the strategy.

 ‘Making predictions’ should be taken as a listening skill. In fact it is a real-life skill; whenever we are listening to someone speaking, we make predictions about what he/she’s going to say later. So, the learners should be trained on how to use the given clues to make predictions about subsequent details in the passage being listened to. In video-viewing, using images and the sequence of events can help the learners further predict what’s coming next.

‘Skimming’ is an authentic skill which is frequently practiced in real life. ‘Skimming’ is when the learners identify the main idea of a spoken/written text. While trying to identify the main idea of a spoken passage, the listeners do not have to listen to all the details in the text. The main idea (the gist) can be understood from the first sentence(s) or from the first part of what is being said. In video-watching, images are sufficient to provide the learners with the main idea. So, the teacher should choose the most appropriate part of an audio/video track which would allow the learners to get the gist of what is being listened to.

In unit 2 of the textbook, for instance, the target sub-skill is ‘scanning for specific information’. In this this strategy, the learners try to locate specific details in the text. Specific information can also be understood using video images as support. A detail can be names, dates, figures, numbers, percents, amounts of money, etc. So, as a strategy, the teacher is advised to train the learners on how to locate specific information in an audio text usually through directing them to where the detail is being discussed without having to listen to the whole text.

  • Post-listening:

The post-listening phase of the lesson should be devoted to discussing the importance of the strategy dealt with in understanding the text . During this phase, the teachers can also further exploit the content of the text. If the audio/video text is about a topic related to ‘family’ or ‘friends’, for instance,  the post-listening stage can be devoted to a speaking session in which the learners talk in groups or give a short talk to the class about their families or relatives. In this stage, the teacher can also link the listening class to a ‘reading comprehension’ or a ‘writing’ class, making the topic being discussed as a starting point for the coming lesson. Other activities that can be dealt with after a listening lesson include:

  • Pair-work  on the ideas  dealt with in the listening audio/video.
  • Group work discussion on an aspect of the text.
  • Short talk/presentation related to the topic.
  • Paragraph writing about the topic (about my family, for instance).
  • Quick-writes.
  • Story-telling in reaction to the topic.
  • Role-plays (imitating the people in the video).
  • etc.,

What do you think?

On the teaching of reading comprehension.

I would like to start this post with a question: ‘Do you teach or test reading comprehension in your reading classes?’.

This post is evoked by a comment that was made by a fellow teacher: “I would admit that I never taught reading comprehension. What I was doing was following blindly the questions in the bottom of the reading text.”

I have seen many instances where teaching reading comprehension classes are turned into testing reading comprehension- or a little bit far even from being testing. The teacher would start his/her lesson with a brainstorming of the topic, trying to activate the learners’ prior knowledge. He/she then immediately asks the learners to ‘read the text and answer the questions’ underneath before moving into the correction of the questions one after the other. This seems a very normal process in most of our EFL classes. What makes this far from being a reading comprehension lesson?

  1. I don’t think the teacher is aware of the target reading sub-skill in the lesson.This is manifested through dealing with questions which target different sub-skills, sometimes reading for the gist, sometimes scanning and other reading for details.
  2. This means the students are moving from one unit/text to an other without  being trained on how to apply any one reading startegy in the classroom/exam reading texts, and ultimately in the real-life reading (as a skill).
  3. This entails that neither the teacher nor the learners are aware of the reading lesson’s objective, or target competency. Maybe the only clear objective that can be given is ‘to teach reading’. But, for what purpose?

In the light of the above considerations, it’s recommended for any reading comprehension lesson to target one reading sub-skill. The lesson should focus on training the learners on the use of the target reading comprehension strategy. This means that the teacher is required to select only one reading comprehension skill and target it in the lesson. Again adopting most textbooks the way they are now is very misleading. Neither in ‘the map of the book’ nor at the beginning of each unit is the target reading competency (sub-skill) identified. In the best cases reading comprehension skills are ‘misidetified’ and confusing or crammed together at the top of the first page of the unit in as much the same way they are listed in the national syllabus.

I do get confused when I see ‘read for cause and consequence’ featuring as a reading competency or skill, and I feel dizzy when I read that ‘read and define a concept’ or ‘read a menu’ are considered  reading comprehension skills… It is also unrealistic and anti-didactic to target four or five reading comprehension sub-skills in one lesson. This further proves that the reading lessons in the text are more test-like (and so is the teacher’s lesson if the textbook is followed as it si) than heading towards strategy training.

It is very appreciated if the teacher adapts the passage on the textbook and targets only one reading comprehension skill in his/her lesson. It’s rewarding when the teacher is aware of the skill he/she’s dealing with in the lesson. Only in this way can he/she make the learners aware of the target competency and use appropraite strategies to train the learners on the real-life use of that skill.One final comment in relation to strategy-training, most of the (exam-oriented) textbooks simply tell the to ‘read the text and answer the question’, whatever the question is. Targetting one specific reading skill doesn’t require ‘reading the text’; reading the title, the subtitles and looking at pictures is enough to get the gist of a newspaper article.

  • Have a (critical) look at the reading sub-skills that are targeted in the national syllabus (mind things such as ‘identifying the topic sentence of each paragrpah of the text’, The  Guidelines, 2007:23).
  • Match each sub-skill to the most appropriate reading passage in the textbook or use your own text if you can afford it, providing that it fits the unit theme.
  • No need to tell the learners to ‘read the whole text’. Use the appropriate strategy as is required by the skill.
  • Adopt an explicit approach to teaching reading strategies. Say for example: “for question number XX, you don’t have to read everything (the whole text). Read only the first paragrpah and the last one/ read only the first sentence in each paragraph as you are reading for the gist, we only need the main idea of the text. Time the reading depending on the task/target skill.
  • Recycle the sub-skills as you move along the syllabus. It’s not enough for a skill to be targeted in one unit and then forget about it once for all. Besides, recycling strategies prepares the learners for the exam as they will get into a text that is more or less similar to the exam text by the end of the year (multiple questions targeting different sub-skills).
  • Give less time to the learners as you progressively train them on the strategies that build the skill.

On observing a language class

        Observing an English as a Foreign Language class – or maybe any other language class- is different from observing any other school subject. Two things, among many others, are highly appreciated  in language classes. First, a language teacher has to take into account the fact that language is taught for the sake of being used in real life. Hence, while teaching, all the tasks and activities should drive towards this final objective. Consequently, evidence of the pupils’ learning would be observed only if they can use what they have learnt in meaningful communicative situations. It is indeed boring- somtimes frustrating- to see a teacher emitating exam-like exercises all along the session. True, there are summative exams and the learners should be prepared for that as well, but this should not blind us to the point of ‘inventing’ a boring language lesson. Exam-like exercises should be targetted in part of the practice stage of the language point being dealt with.

        Related to this is that any meaningful interaction activity should normally be conducted in pairs or small groups, more or less the way real-world interactions do take place. It’s ‘dehumanising’ language teaching when you ask students at the end of a grammar, language functions or vocabulary lesson to “give an example”. No problem if that is done while checking understanding of simple concepts or vocabulary items; but as an opportunity for language USE, no one ever asks as to give him/her examples in real life.

        FollowIng the textbooks the way they are now would not certainly lead to achieving any of the above points. It’s highly appreciated when teachers strive to build situations (role-plays, e-mail exchange, information-gap activities…) through which the learners interact and use the language they have just learnt.

A national EFL syllabus.

No doubt, changing the currently used textbooks in the teaching of English in Morocco is a crucial necessity. However, before writing and publishing new textbook, there are other critical areas that have to be dealt with first; otherwise, the change would be no more that a waste of money for some and huge budgets for others.

There are so many problems with the current EFL  textbooks. I am not going to deal with issues that concern the activities,texts or any other materials in these textbooks; yet, my concern is with with some macro areas. The disparities that exist between the three textbooks that are used in teaching the baccalaureate level (and other levels as well) are due to the lack of a standardized structure that makes the broad goals (macro-competencies) that are targeted in all the textbooks coherent with each other.

For any possible reform to be successful in achieving the goals of teaching foreign languages in Morocco, it must start from building up a ‘robust’ EFL syllbus. It has never been enough to give textbook writers a list of topics and language items, and ask them to build a textbook that complies with the list(s).

For this reason, I do believe that starting from building a national EFL syllabus (some might prefer to use the term curriculum) is of paramount importance for many reasons. First, this syllabus should make clear the profile of the Moroccan EFL learner/speaker that we want to have by the the time he/she finishes the secondary school. It’s not enough to specify that profile in broad terms that might be cross-curricular or inter-disciplinary. The EFL learner should be specified in terms of what he/she can do with the English language in very clear,  manageable and measurable items.Certain statements such as ‘by the time he/she finishes the baccalaureate level, the Moroccan learner should be able to sustain a conversation to achieve his/her communicative needs” or “the Moroccan learner should be able to write a simple e-mail to inform the (recepient can vary) of his/her own persoanl life,culture, needs and opinions….). These are sample ways in which the profile of the learner can be specified in terms of his/her own performance, not in braod terms such as ‘to communicate with the other’. These performances should specify what the learner should be able to do in all the four language skills in addition to what he/she can do with the use of ICT to further pursue learning language and using it for inter-cultural communication.

By clearly determining the profile of the language learner we want, we provide the textbook writes with a road map to follow while designing the activities they will include in the textbook. These activities have to target developing specific language skills that contribute to the development of the general profile of the learner (language competencies). Many of the “activities” in some of the textbooks that are currently used have no clear objective,maybe more than throwing the learner into an ocean of language where he/she has to seek his/he chance of getting through it safely.

Of equal importance in any future change of the textbooks is the specification of the approach to be used for teaching EFL in Morocco.  I think that it’s high time clear terms were used. Textbook writers are not sure whether  the approach is “approach par compétence” or “standads-based appraoch”. This explains why one doesn’t find the specification of the targeted skills in clear ways at the beginning of every unit in the textbook. Sometimes the terms standard, skill and competency are used interchangeably. The focus should be on what is to be achieved, not on importing “concepts” that distract people’s (textbook writers’, supervisors’ and teachers’) attention from focusing on achieving clear competencies.

In my opinion, textbook writers and teachers should be aware of the approach that they have to follow while designing texbook activities/tasks or being involved in actual classroom practices. In language teaching, I suppose it is enough to make people aware of the main principles that are involved in language teaching. These principles have have to adhere to the ‘communicative function‘ of language teaching. Therefore, there is no reason to tell people in some references that we are adopting “the competency-based” approach, in others “the standards-based approach” and still in others “the communicative approach”…. Specifying the targeted competencies necessitates and drives with it a language teaching approach/method. In saying “the Moroccan learner should be able to use language to exchange information…’, it’s clear that any technique used to teach the activities that target such objectives must be ‘communicative‘. Teaching for communication doesn’t rule out comparing/contrasting cultures/languages; it neither neglects speaking about other cultures and getting insight into the aspects of life of other people; hence, I do believe that, without having to mention it, the 5 Cs of communication that are the cornerstone of the standards-based approach are embedded in any communicative classroom.

One last thing that has to be specified for textbook writers, and mainly for language teachers, is the type and function of assessment in language teaching. It’s high time teachers were clear about whether language assessment is  for learning or of learning. A national syllabus has to make it clear when to test the learners summatively because we need grades for reasons of evaluation ,and when to assess the learners -not because we want to collect grades- but because we want to understand and maybe redirect and correct the way we teach/the way learners learn. In other words,it just doesn’t make sense to to advocate ‘formative assessment’ and grade learners at the same time.

Changing the current textbooks, using new names, new colors is of great interest; however,  it  wouldn’t end the ‘communicative’ crisis our secondary school learners are facing when it comes to using foreign languages. Any coming textbook reform should be prceded by a clear text which specifies the terminal competencies of our learners, the approach that should be used to achieve those competencies as well as the role(s) of assessment in language teaching.

this is where reform should start!

There have been many reforms in our (Moroccan) educational system from 1956 up to Imagenow.The last reform should normally have given fruitful results by the end of 2010.The last ten years has seen a “give away” not to say a waste of huge amounts of money for what is called the “emergency plan”. It was normally supposed to reform our educational system within the 2000- 2010 period. However, with the exception of building new schools in some rural areas and recruting more untrained grduates, there is no real reform as it was expected by the whole nation.

Any educational reform should appear at the achievment level of the learners, and since Moroccan teachers, on the whole, still complain about the deteriorating level of most learners, then we can simply say that the reform was diverted to another direction, not to where it should go normally. Add to this that the results of the learners,in standardized national/regional tests show that our learners are far away from achieving the minimum level of the targeted competences- if any competence is targeted!.

To be fair, I am not blaming the learners as many other people would do.But, we have to look at the primary areas that should be targeted by any educational reform in this country if we really want to see improvement at the level of the learners’ attainment. I don’t undermine the huge positive impact of buidling schools for Moroccans in rural unpriviledged areas, though again those newly established schools need to be demolished, lest some of them fall over the heads of our kids…It is obvious that our ministry officials like to talk about numbers, about the quantity of things and I have never heard anyone of them talking about quality. Have you? I might be wrong. Review the ministerial reports, and tell me please if I am wrong. I suppose that the following axes have to get prominence, and their evaluation should be on the improvement of our learners’ achievement of certain pre-specified, achieveable and clear-cut competences that have to be clearly stated by the coming official documents.

1- Moroccan teachers should get efficient and effective training which should be easily reflected in and evaluated by classroom practices. It’s funny to hear of a training and to associate it with chicken! It’s also funny to hear people saying that they have to conduct a training session because they can’t spend a training budget on something else. This reminds me a very rigid mechanical system in which if you divert or use something in another place or for another reason, the whole system stops! Training has to be purposeful. It has to target clear objectives that are achieveable as well. How many trainings have you gone through under the old-fashioned term “pedagogie d’integration” or “evaluation” or “GENIE”… How much of that have used in your classes? How much of it is felt by the learners? How much technology is now “Generalized” in our schools?

My view is that trainings have to start from basics. It’s so funny to train a teacher on how to use digital resources while he/she still lacks the essentials of teaching the basic skills. Iam not against such trainings;yet, I think that our should know how to read, write and communicate first. I am not generalizing; but, this has brought to my mind the idea of differenciating training, It’s ok if the ministry conducts trainings on how to use Web.2 tools for profesional teachers WHO DON’T face difficulties in dealing with basic skills, not only in English but also in other areas! Do we have the internet in schools? How many multimedia classrooms do you have in your schools? How often can you access it if you have one? I think my point is clear!

2- The second area that should be targeted is the recruitment of new teachers; I mean trained teachers. I can’t imagine an educational system who is normally supposed  to produce / educate (choose the term you agree with) the elite, maybe the leaders of the country, and at the same time it is used as an engine that absorbs unemployed people. Education is not an area that can accept fatal errors. The errors appear immediately in the same year they are made. If you recruit an unemployed graduate to teach physics be sure that he/she will be teaching something else,at best the physics of the 70s!How would you expect the results of the learners by the end of the year. I am not against employing people. That’s one of their basic rights. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t be in schools. Please think of somewhere else. A place where they need no training and where the effect of lack of training would cost no more than tearing out a paper and rewriting it.

3- Part of the reform’s money should target making the school materials available for the learners. You know there is poverty! You know Moroccan parents ,especially in rural areas, usually have more than two or three children at schools. Think of how a father of three or four -I have seen cases of more- would afford to buy textbooks for their kids.I can’t imagine textbooks of 50dhs (English textbooks), in maths and other science subjects, the price is doubled. Forget about the quality of the textbook now; I am not speaking about that! I suppose that you all feel the plight of Moroccan families at the beginning of the school year. As a teacher, I have seen a textbook that is used for more than four or five years by different learners. Think of how it will look; forget about the exercises and the “tasks” inside!  Think about the effect of that on the learner’s achievement. They have bought large screen TVs ,and maybe they will send electronic textbooks in the future.

4- The last area I am going to speak about is the training of inspectors. I am using this term, though I have a reservation about it, simply because there are some areas in the educational system which need inspection, instead of educational supervision. There should be enough supervisors, not for “inspecting” teachers, but for helping them with their professional development. I have seen many trainings that were conducted by some people on topics they themselves have not understood,maybe they never heard about. It’s a waste of the learners’ time to bring teachers to a training that they cannot evaluate. Evaluation requires change of what is evaluated if it proves to be a failure. To evaluate a training, it must be conducted by people who can assume responsibility for its success or failure. That cannot be done by a teacher because simply that’s not his/her primary job.

These are crucial areas to hit for immediate reform,and building more schools should happen ,not at a later stage, but at the same time. After all, what’s the use of building a school if after five or six years the learner still can’t write or read his/her name? You all correct national/regional exams and you know how our learners answer. They are not to blame; you are not either.

I have tried to keep this post very short. I hope it’s to the point.

Views on educational supervision.

leadersLike everything else in the area of education,supervision is undergoing many changes.I still remember many stories of teachers trembling of fear for days and maybe weeks upon knowing that the ‘inspector’ is visiting them.I have seen cases of teachers who have never prepared a lesson plan,fortunately not a lot, and they ask other colleagues to lend them their lesson plan on the day of the ‘inspector”s visit.This reminds me of old women borrowing their friends’  dress for a wedding party! I still remember  story,I was told, of a teacher leaving the inspector in the classroom because he did not prepare his lesson.

This might show a lot about the image which teachers held or still hold about what was once called the inspector ,in fact the same title is still used officially today,though the role is no longer  the same.

It used to be the case that the inspector had the role of going into classrooms and inspecting teachers,maybe trying to pinpoint their mistakes,and sometimes even forcing mistakes out even though none was there.I still doubt if those inspectors came into the teacher with a constructive intention!I am not going to generalize;yet,we all heard of stories where inspectors thought that their mission was to ask a series of ‘where is…?’ questions,hoping that they would fall on something the teacher missed preparing or bringing to class.Such inspectors didn’t know that their main job is to help teachers improve their teaching practices for the sake of better improving the quality of students’ achievement.

I have seen that the profession both of teaching and supervision is undergoing many changes,I hope that the impact that will affect the destination (learners) will be positive.Today,the title ‘inspector’ should be revisited for the sake of appropriately describing what the function of this person really is.Many people have already started using the term ‘supervisor’.I think this term carries less of the ‘go for the hunt’ connotations that are associated with the term ‘inspector’.I am now aware that today’s new generation of supervisors are themselves unwilling to use the term ‘inspector’ anymore.

Today’s supervisors should be equiped with the skills and willingness to defend the students’ interests and to do that they should be no more than supportive to teachers,in every aspects of the teaching profession.Spervisors should have enough knowledge and skills to deal with the new methodological situations.These situations,today,shouldn’t be only related to the teaching of the basic language skills such as reading and writing;yet,they are more of a new nature because our students are dealing with the new technologies,webtools,gadgets and applications.Supervisors should train themselves,now that official training in that area is lacking or inefficient,on how to help teachers,hence students,on how to exploit these new learning tools for the sake of communicating better with the world.That’s one mission,which is stated but not well-targeted in our educational documents and policies.

Today,supervisors should help teachers to rely more on themselves for their professional development.This can happen by creating learning communities (virtual or real).The supervisor’s mission ,then,is to create the conditions  in which teachers gather,exchange ideas and grow together.We all know of cases where some of our best teachers have very innovative and effecient practices and they keep them for themselves,not because they are unwilling to share them;yet,the  necessary conditions for sharing are not provided.

Today,I suppose that any ‘where is …(this or that)?’ question from a supervisor should be justified with pedagogic reasons.Teachers should see the relevance and importance of any document or suggestion ….only then can they be ready to change their views and habits.It’s obviously useless and also painful to ask someone to prepare something without telling them the reason why and sometimes even how.It would ,of course, seem as a sort of punishment to tell a teacher that he/she should adopt a certain method or technique without being able to see the rationale and the effect that is going to have on students.That’s what’s happening to our students today,abd that’s why their achievement is far below the expectations.Our students are not told about the meaning and relevance of what they are doing at school,and so it’s somehow justified if they see ‘meaninglesness’ in everything around them.So,for the process to have a positive impact on learning,teachers should see the ‘meaning’ of what they are doing or told to do,and they have in turn to share that ‘meaningfulness’ with their learners.

I hope this blog is not too long for you to read.Please feel free to put forward your ideas and comments.

How to be a bad teacher?

There has been a lot of things written about what makes a good teacher;I have personally read a lot of articles on the characteristics of a “good teacher”;and I think that,by implication,that’s also how a “bad teacher” should look like.So if you are interested in making yourself a very bad teacher,it’s not as difficult as becoming a “good teacher” is.

First of all,  a bad teacher is certainly living a volcanic class atmosphere.This is the result of ,and results in,bad relations with the kids he/she’s teaching.If you happen to have a bad image because of the way you treat your students,be sure that you are not “teaching” in the first place,and no “learning” is taking place because the filter and the students’ anxiety are high.Research has proved that students usually react to a teacher’s personality more than they do towards his/her knowledge of the subject he/she’s teaching.So,mind that grammar,vocabulary and all the staff that you might have in your head and you have learned at university is of no interest to your students if they react to your character in a negative way.If students keep thinking of the way you behave,they have no other memory space to think of their learning.

Mind that teachers usually create “bad images” for themselves in their students’ minds not because they are “bad people” but simply because with the first glance students react to you as an intruder to an already settled and formed group with its norms,rules,leaders…and so if you re-react(or you over-react),you get into conflicts and you fall into an endless circle of “bad teacher” images.

So,if you want to be a “bad teacher” by the end of the school year,leave a bad image in your students’ memory.

The same counts for your relations with the school staff.Bad teachers are usually in conflicts with the other teachers as well as with the school administration.Don’t mind,yet.There will always be some sort of “opinion” about you from this person or that,exactly the same as what happens in your real life.But,if that opinion becomes common sense for the whole group,then there is something you have to correct.Overlook negative opinions from individuals;they might be the result of your having great relations with your students and other people.So if you happen to go along with your students,don’t be amazed to suffer from some jealousy  on the part of those who have bad relations with the students.

Don’t be ashamed or punish yourself if you are in confrontation with the headteacher or the school administration in case you are right.But, do not try to escalate the conflict because you are right and they are wrong!Administration staff usually unit against the teacher (especially if he/she’s alone) no matter how right his/her opinion  is.Feel that your view is the right one,don’t give it up;and ,yet, you still have to be diplomatic and find  a way out.That’s the administration,and that’s what they are taught to do and that’s why they are there in the first place;to keep the administration’s face “clean”.So,keep yours cleaner!And remember that any sort of relations you have with the school staff,has a direct influence on your personality and on the way you behave in your classes;ultimately it affects on your students’ learning.So keep a good rapport with everyone in your school.

Reforming assessment.

There has been a wide debate on the social networking leaks that accompanied our baccalaureate exams  this year,maybe more than what has ever happened in our end of high school (baccalaureate) exams.

The ministry of education issued a statement admitting that there were leaks through social networking sites.We heard also similar stories of people getting answers through sms messages from their mobiles.Many people also discussed stories of cases where violence was used by those who wanted to cheat in order to intemidate teachers.

So many people discussed the issue of leaking and cheating as immoral,unethical and all of those words that might be used to describe such an inhumane, anti-social practice.I am not going to look at the issue from that perspective again because we all agree that leaking exam question by one way or another and cheating must be punished.I will be looking at lessons that must be learned from what has recently happened.

The first thing that is obvious is that our examination system does no longer meet the requirements and conditions of the modern age, in which our students are living.This examination system must be reformed in such a way that leaking questions or cheating becomes almost impossible or meaningless.While alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the last 2 or 3 hours exam is totally unfair,this percentage has to be modified so that the continous assessment that is taken on a regular basis gets more prominence and importance.In this way,we rid those who rely too much on the final 50% opportunity of  that one minute chance of cheating and getting a grade that will certainly be better than that of a student who was labouring during the whole baccalaureate years(the two years).

It’s high time for the ministry of education to give more credit to those assessments that are done throughout the school year,and also to rely more on the gardes that students get from their continous work and efforts,and not from a one week ( sometimes a one night) effort.

The leaks of the exams using technology has also another lesson to teach us.Our assessment has to move from posing direct (closed) questions that have only one possible answer to assessments that rely on an ongoing process of learning,research and inquiry.It’s high time that Moroccan schools start assessing students using widely open methods of assessments that foster creativity,responsibility and compitition, including long-term portfolios and projects that are continously monitored by the teacher,who is the only one that is able to decide whether that final (or process) product of the student is really his/her own achievement or not.

I really think that assessing students has to rely more on systems where they can integrate more than one skill.Project-based assessment is one possibile way through which students can integrate all the skills and competencies they have learned all through the thier four years of learning EFL.A one choice question gives ample space for “gambling”,and that’s absolutely clear in the true/false statement,where students get the correct choice,and they fail to justify it.

The status quo of the EFL exams now tests the students only in one skill (It’s not even a skill; find a name for that).It’s unfair to test a student on wether he/she’s able to use the passive or to express regret using questions like “re-write the sentence as indicated..”.I am not justifying the leaks or cheating.Yet,my view is that this sort of testing/assessment is totally unfair as the student might be able to use the passive in his/her speaking/writing,and still he/she fails to see the trasformation rule.Giving students multiple chances of showing what they can do with English minimizes to a great extent the attempts of cheating.

I really think that the type of questions (of the sort of “re-write the sentences as indicated/where is…?Put the verbs between brackets in the correct form…) that are used now gives the students more chances of cheating,and it strips the teacher of the opportunity of deciding if a product is really from the student or from a facebook site.

Alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the national (three hours) exam is also unfair from another perspective.Paper and pen exams fail to adress multiple interests,multipe learning styles and multiple intelligences.There might be some students who are really good at speaking English,and yet they find it to hard to sit in a chair and answer grammar/comprehension questions for two or three hours.

I think that our assessment has also to move a step forward from meeting the interests of a few students to catering for a whole range of students’ differences.Leaking exams using technology and social networking sites shows that some of our students are fans of the mobile,the camera,the video and so many other things.

Assessment through multiple skill projects gives our students the opportunity to express themselves the fullest,to be creative and productive.Of course,we have the possibility of assessing our students using portfolios and projects.But,remember that’s only a small part of the already small 25% alocated to continous assessment.It’s high time, then, that we put more trust in in-class continous grades and assessments.I think it’s the long term continous assessment that deserves to get even more than 50% of the baccalaureate grade!

Another failure of the paper and pen exams as they are administered now is that they fail to test all what our students can do with lanaguage.I am absolutely sure,depending on my in-service experience that transforming a statement from direct to reported speech on the board or in the work-book doesn’t necessarily mean that the student CAN really do that while he/she’s speaking or writing an article.So the point is:Exams have to be taken in different ways.Testing our students’s language as it is now cannot tell us anything about the real competencies that our students have really achieved throughout their four years of learning English.

I suppose that students have to be tested orally,in writing (different forms of writing again,not write an article about “the causes and effects of brain drain” full stop) and through projects as well.We have to get multiple sources of information about what our students have achieved,and those multiple sources must get the same garde perectages.I am not sure whether there is any piece of evidence which shows that reading comprehension is more important than writing or vice versa.By alocating more grades to grammar/vocabulary and less to writing (or the opposite) you fail to be fair in your testing,as you are giving more opportunities of success to those who are “grammar” fans (maybe authoritative/mathematical) learners and you take more chances from those who love imagination(writing poems,essays…).

By using only a paper and pen exam,our exams are also unfair,and that gives more excuses to those who “love” to cheat.There are so many of our students who are good at speaking,maybe “auditory/communicative” learners.A pen and paper exam doesn’t really cater for their biological difference.

Using technology in leaking exams and in cheating tells us one last thing.Our educational system,which still relies to much on chalk,textbooks,papers and blackboards,is lagging far behind our students’ daily lives.Cheating and leaking exams using technology ,maybe, gives them the pleasure and the satisfaction which our classes fail to give them.It’s high time then for all of us to start thinking of making this technology “ridiculous” for them( in a postive way of course).Our schools must be equiped with the sort of technology that most of our students are experiencing ( in a negative way) these days so that they learn that facebook,i-phones,i-pads and what’s coming next are made for learning and not for cheating.

To conclude,I have read on many places on the web (forums,facebook pages…) comments of people asking the ministry of education to equip schools with equipements that are able to cut off the internet and mobile networks on schools during exams.Well,that might be a good idea,but remember that as you are thinking of that,other people might have already got applications,software or maybe machines that will make your idea so funny for them!

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