Category Archives: Learners

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.

When is school a prison?

I was walking around in my classroom today and I was attracted to a recently written graffiti which on the wall .That graffiti is a multiple choice question in which the writer asked his/her mates the following question:

“What is this place? choose the correct answer: – Prison         -Hospital.”

The writer or another student seems to have chosen the first choice “prison”.

This writing has pushed me to think about what is that that makes our students see school as either a prison or a hospital.I asked some of my classes about why school is a prison for them and they answered in different ways.Some of them think that schools don’t offer what students really need in their life.Some of them have expressed their opinion in written form saying that they study English,maths,geography and all the other core subjects;while,there is no space for other extra-curricular activities.Some students have said that the absence of subjects that appeal to students’ interests really demotivates them and makes school a boring place.The word “boring” was repeated in the answers of many of them.

Other students have said that school is “prison” for them because of the behaviours that come from some of their mates.

So many other writings on the walls of our school reflect the degree of hate that students -not all students of course- have towards school.Among the other writings that you see on the walls of our school are “rubbish”,”Shit!” and the like!

What is important in all that is not the words as such;but, how we can make students love school.The “reflections” that students write on the walls of classrooms while the teacher is busy with an activity or writing on the board show that students have other interests that are not catered for by the lesson that is taking place at the time of their writing.

Schools have to move from top-down systems where everything is decided from the top to a system where students have more freedom of choice.Schools should move into the era where students and teachers have more power on the materials they use,the activities they deal with and how they teach.

You might say that teachers are free to do all that!It’s not the case in our situation.The syllabus comes in the form of ministry circulars,the text-book is agreed upon and authorised by the ministry.The exams and the tests (number,methods,duration….) is all decided by the teacher.The amount of time that is located to a huge text-book  -the syllabus- doesn’t match the huge content that has to be covered,which makes it impossible for a teacher to think of other things except when and how to finish a program in which students will be tested on the national and regional levels.All these constraints are a so heavy load on the teacher’s /the student’s back.

It’s high time for our educational authorities and school headmasters to see extra-curricular activities as a “paradise” for the school and the student.A huge amount of materials (grammar,reading,functions…) dealt with in a text-book doesn’t necessarily mean that those students have learned a lot.It means neither that the teacher has worked a lot or even better.Little is so enough and great when students see it as great.Too much materials leaves no room for the teacher’s and the student’s creativity and that’s exactly the job of old-times ‘ prisons.So,no wonder if students see school as prison.

Look,we shouldn’t forget  that in many parts of the globe,including my country,our children have got more freedom outside school these days than they have in schools.It’s so sarcastic and funny that we keep teaching about human rights,values and freedom of choice ;while, school is the place where that is to be expected less,at least in the present time.

High school students are around 18-20 years old.They are mature and old enough to make decisions and have their own choices.Teachers are there to cater for the students’ needs,and they should be given that ethical right with no reservation.Teachers are the only ones who know what,when and how to teach.They also know that there times where teaching grammar or any other language skill wouldn’t work.So,give them the freedom to skip grammar and do something else that will certainly be of great benifit for the student.I am not advocating an anti-syllabus or anti-textbook view.A road map is always necessary for the goals to be achieved.My view is the road map should be the teacher’s business.The road map can be altered or simply ignored when that is necessary.With the present status-quo of education,teachers and students are obliged to follow a map that might lead to no where.

School should match the kind of life that students are living outside, either at home or outside home; if it is really to be called “school”.

Another graffiti in our school saying "Live the prison"!

The learner is a person!

It’s so frequesnt to hear in the educational theories and spheres ” taking the learner as a whole person”.But,we rarely take this into serious consideration given the number of students we have to deal with,and given the amount of syllabus we have to cover before a standardised test arrives.

Humanistic theories advocate and recommend taking  the learner as a “human being” with all his/her qualities,sufferings and life situations and conditions   while we are teaching him/her in our classes.

As I have already mentioned, so many stressful conditions surround teachers that they completely ignore that the learner comes into school bringing with him/her every thing that he/she faces and lives outside school.

Today,I have lived a case which really “urges” us to take the learner as a whole person before taking any decision or before even starting your “warm up”.I have been teaching a student for the last 5 months and he would more often produce meaningless sounds in class while I am expalining or dealing with my lesson.This “human” would usually laugh in cases where no one else ,but him,laughs in his class.He would utter sounds that I used to consider as  strange enough to be those of a “human being”.I asked many of his other teachers, and they all said that he behaves exactly the same way in other subjects,which dismissed the fact that he had a problem with English as a subject or with me as an English teacher.It was really one of the mysteries I have lived during the last ten years of my teaching.

Taking learners as human being is a fact that must be taken seriously if we really want our teaching/schools to build full humans and citizens.I have learned that this poor adolescent is living miserable social conditions.I have found out ,today, that his father is a well-known delinquent and drankard in his   neighbourhood.So,all the “misbehaviour” of that student is no more than a reflection of the state of instability that he’s been living.Today,I have actually spoken with this poor kid in private and I have learned things that I should have understood from the beginning of the year.This student ahs even said that his father divorced his mother long ago,and that he’s living with his grand-parents,while his mother is married to another man far away from where he’s now.

These facts have given me an insight into the reason(s) behind this child’s behaviour.I wouldn’t try to expalin it more psychologically-a job I am not well-equiped to deal with.I would say no more than THIS STUDENT NEEDS OUR ATTENTION;I am now aware that what he was doping in his different classes is merely for the sake of getting some of the attention and recognition that he misses else where-his family.It’s unfortuante ,however,that many of his teachers are not aware of the situation he’s living,which still opens the door for more criticism and “irrelevant” behaviuor management solutions from his teachers.

I am now aware that this student and similar others misbehave with a view to getting some of the respect they have lost outside school.It’s so sad,though,that they continue to get disrespect both from us and from their peers,simply because we have FAILED to understand their life.We are really obliged to provide our learners with the self-esteem that is lost for them because of one reason or another,and to do that there must be other parts-administration staff-which must know every thing about every student’s life and provide us-teachers-with this type of information so that we act towards our kids appropriately.

It’s really so sad that the people who hold information of this type on our students continue to consider it as “secret” ,and “it might deprive the student of his self-esteem” in front of the teachers and peers.It’s high time that our schools had centers that ” really listen to the student,”and know every thing about his/her life.These are valuable information that would have saved me and the poor child a lot of trouble and misunderstanding!

I am now aware that no student can learn-or try to learn-while he/she misses other valuable parts of his/her life.Self-esteem,recognition and self-respect are essential before learning.

To sum up, we,as teachers,have to be tolerant and very slow while responding or interpretting our students’  (mis)behaviour.We should know that many things happen in our students’ lives outside  and inside school ,and they all affect the way these students behave ,react and learn in our classes.I now aknwoledge that there are  other things that are more important than the lesson plan and the use of a multi-media channel!

I am now aware that so many of the ways I tried to react to that particular student’ misbehaviour were inappropraite and totally missing the point.Because I have talked to him today and because he feels that I am no longer a grammar and language teacher,I am sure he will modify his behaviour.He simply knows that I am caring for him,and that’s what he needs.

The corner-stone of school reform.

So many ideas have been written for years,and maybe for centuries on how to improve and develop education.Many educational theorists and psychologists have spoken about how  schools can meet students’ needs and requirements.Many others have spoken about materials,curriculum and methods.

The motivational theory continues to influence the eduactional sphere,and it keeps on being quoted whenever we want to speak about the relation between students and school.

I am greatly impressed by Maslow’s hirarchy of needs, and I think that it is absolutely the theory that sums up the whole issue of how to motivate students,and,therefore,how to make school better cater for the needs of those who attend it.

In my country,as in many other countries of the world,millions of dollars are spent every year on educational reforms.But,education continues to be the most problematic sector for world governments.And despite the millions of dollars that are spent on making it better,students still continue to lose interest  in attending classes,and the rates of school drop outs continues to raise year after year.

I am not sure if the educational policy makers are aware of Maslow ‘s hirarchy of needs and other educational theories!Probably,as it seems in our daily reality,they are not.

It is plain clear that the people who plan and implement educational theories jump into the higher levels of Maslow’s hirarchy.They have issued many documents and educational circulars about the standards that every student has to meet at the different levels of his/her school life.They have also spent a lot of money on changing the curriculum and printing new text-books….All this is adressing Maslow’s “esteem” and ” self-actualisation” levels of the human needs.

Many research articles have “warned” the educational authorities that to truely reform our schools and to motivate our learners,there are so many things that must happen first in the  students’ lives outside school.

So, to change the syllabus,and to print coloured text-books in Spain or somewhere else doesn’t really target the heart of the issue.What we need is to meet the students’ and the teachers’ first basic needs.First things have to be dealt with first.Numerous educational articles have found that the students that come from disadvantaged families perfrom badly in school.

Our authorities must first of all ensure that those who attend school are not hungry.We have to be sure that the student is not suffering from flu and,still, he/she can’t afford to buy the medecines.We must also undrestand that moral and psychological security comes before learning in the hirarchy of human needs.That’s why it’s of paramount importance to make our students feel secure inside and also outside school.I cannot imagine a student whose father is struggling with bread to attend school in full psychological readiness.No one can expect a parent who has ,maybe, ten other kids and struggling to ensure survival for them, no one can expect him/her to keep track of what his/her child is doing at school.This explains why  the majority of parents never come to school to inquire about their children’s educational difficulties or successs.And this is exactly the same reason why parents don’t come to school even if their child has a problem with a teacher or with the administration.Parents are too busy with the basic urges of their kids and their life.They have little space in their mind to fill with school matters.

An other factor that diminishes students’ achievement and which makes them at-risk children is the illiteracy of their parents.So many parents are illiterate ,and they are,consequently,totally unaware of the importance of education.Because of the high rates of unemployment in our country,and now in many developed countries too, parents believe that education has no  role in their kids’ life since they graduate ,and still remain jobless for the rest of their lives.Our educational authorities,hence,have to make it clear to parents that school is not all about jobs.Parents,illiterate ones I mean,should know the real value of sending their kids to school.But again this can only happen when their first basic needs are met.And to meet their basic needs,their poverty has to stop,and for poverty to stop,they should have jobs.It’s all an endless circle that is highly tied to poverty and survival.

Poverty does not only affect the school achievement of the poor child,but it also affects even the learning conditions of the other -middle class- students who are in the same class.Poor students are more likely to engage in misbehaviour affecting, therefore,both the teacher and the other class mates.This makes the job of the teacher inside the classroom even more complicated.He/she has to deal with various misbehaviour problems while doing his/her primary job of teaching.This also adds another burden to the teacher as he/she has to plan different lessons/activities for the advantaged and the less advantaged student in class;otherwise, the less advantaged one will keep on being poor in every thing.

To conclude,if our educational policy makers really want to improve education, they must think of ways to end the child’s poverty first.Only,then,comes reform into the other levels.Only then we can blame teachers and the curriculum for the bad results of kids and of the high rates of school drop-outs.

What do children value most in school?

I had been shaking my head for a long time before I finally decided to start putting my ideas,my thoughts,the things that puzzle me ,that make me angry or happy in my teaching days into this site.You cannot imagine that this space was created a year ago but I have never been able to write any word till I have finally come to an agreement with myself as to where and when to start.

There are,absolutely,so many stories that happen in our everyday lives ,and that we want to share with others.And since I have no one to share with in my real life,I cannot make the nights of my wife so sad by the things that happen in my school.I will,therefore,throw them online lest they find a reader or two!

As to the story of today,it’s not really something new in my professional life;but,as I was following my great friends on twitter today (@abouaimran) I  had to reply to a question put there by @SimpleK12 about what is important most for children in school.I really thought that children forget the teacher’s knowledge of the  skills as well as technology tips or any other matter as soon as they feel that they are ignored ,abused or marginalised.Hence,my answer to @Simplek12 ‘s question on twitter was “democracy”.

Today,as I was heading towards the door of my classroom in the end of the session I found out that one of my students left a handwritten note on my bag.The note says exactly ” Please teacher stop racism,please!”. I cannot decide about the definition of “racism” for an adolescent.But,I am absolutely sure that someone in my class was feeling down today.I was really sad as I felt that I might have said or done something that was not appropriate.I am sure that I was monitoring homework tasks on modals and my words might have hurted one of those who didn’t do the homework.

I remember I didn’t say any of those bad words or insults that might be considered racist.I remember that I was dealing with my students all in the same way.And I thought that I was behaving according to the interests of secondary school students who are taking their baccalaureat exam in the end of the year.

This lesson has taught me,though;that students are very sensitive and that they give more attention to our words and our feelings towards them that our methods or garmmar lessons.I have learnt that I have to take greatest caution lest I offend on of those I value most in my school,students.I know now in real-not from theory-that students care more about relations with teachers and less about what the teacher is saying about the syllabus.

I-or we?-have therefore to stop thinking that to be a good teacher,it’s enough to master the topic ,and it’s enough to make it clear to the students.There so many unnoticed things in our classes.They are unnoticed because there so many absurd parts in the human beings.The teacher trainings ,therefore,have to focus more on those unseen parts of the student and less on the things that can be reached from a google click such as how to make a lesson plan fgor a reading text.

Our teaching has to take the whole child into consideration for it to be successful and here’ s where the dogme might have some strenghts.Were I using this approach and not forced to follow a prescribed syllabus that has to be finished,my students would have voiced his/her feeling out.The humanitarian theorists were absolutely right in saying that the child’s inner fellings determine how much learning takes place in the classroom.

But,don’t you see that the teachers’ inner feelings have to be taken into consideration first.We are bieng treated as machines that have to perfoprm certain tasks-finish the program by the end of the year- regardless of what happens in our schools or classes.How  would a teacher-machine then have enough time to look for the unnoticed things that pass by in his/her class?It’s completely impossible I think unless the student is brave enough to stand and say what he/she feels.That’s another story because our educational system is not building such a oerson fornexactly the same reason.We are focusing on how much that has to be covered and we ignore that in this “how much” almost ,nothing is learned because so many things happen at once in our classes and they are left unresolved.

I have to deal with this situation tomorrow.I should know what happened exactly and I have to understand the meaning that is used for “racism” in the mentioned note.I am sure that “racism” should have gained a new meaning in my class today since I am teaching students who are culturally,linguistically…of the same race.

Our teaching has to stop  being machine-like.There must be times to stand up and reflect on what’s going on in our classes.The hidden things that we don’t see have to be uncovered if the filter(Krashen’s) is to be lowered.

%d bloggers like this: