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Result and Analysis
It is common knowledge that understanding a language involves knowing grammar, phonology and lexis patterns. Nevertheless, most of the time one forgets that the context in which many speech acts take place is part of knowing a language. This means knowing certain features and characteristics of the culture (Cakir, 2006). In other words, in order to be able to communicate in a foreign language, even in the mother tongue, it is necessary to identify and understand the context and culture in which the communication act is taking place (Scholes, 2010) due to the fact that:
Culture and communication are inseparable because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about what, and how the communication proceeds, it also helps to determine how people encode messages, the meanings they have for messages, and the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent, noticed or interpreted… Culture…is the foundation of Communication.
(Samovar, Porter, & Jain, 1981, in Scholes, 2010, p.1)
As it can be noticed, each culture has its own way of interacting with people for expressing their ideas politely, how to ask certain things, decide which topics can be discussed or not, what names to give to people, things etc., according to the context of the speakers (Scholes, 2010). These aspects reflect that the use of language is related to social and cultural values which affirm that language is a “social and a cultural phenomenon” (Cakir, 2006, para.3). Due to these facts, every culture varies in their own cultural norms for conversation, which leads to communication problems to those who do not know or share the norms of the other culture (Cakir, 2006).
Foreign Language Learners usually complain of not understanding other’s ideas and perceptions of life. This might happen due to they are not enough communicative competent to understand their interlocutor’s thoughts. This problem arises mainly because foreign language teachers devote more time to teach linguistic elements of language rather than cultural ones (Lessard-Clouston, 1997, para.14), becoming their students in “fluent fool[s]” (Bennet, 1993:9, in Scholes, 2010). That is, a learner who speaks a foreign language well without understanding the social or philosophical content of the foreign language (Ibid). Here is where the importance of teaching culture in foreign language classrooms lies.
Therefore, in order to avoid foreign language /second language students become in fluent fools, teachers should include culture in their curriculum. In this way, teachers are facilitating students the learning of the cultural knowledge required to be competent L2/FL speakers. This requires learners master “some skills in culturally appropriate communication and behavior for the target culture” (Lessard-Clouston, 1997, para.24).
Finally, it should be noted that learning a language in not just a matter of developing linguistic competence. It also implies knowing the culture of the target language. As a consequence, if teachers are aware of learning a foreign language is like open a window to new horizons by building up connections to other cultures, the programs they plan, the courses they create and the materials they write can foster an intercultural point of view (Scholes, 2010). Thus, teachers must become aware of the importance of teaching culture since it is the means for students to learn and acquire the foreign language, in other words, being communicative competent, which is the aim of Foreign Language Teaching.
The topic chosen to develop the present lesson plan is house and home, specifically houses in different places around the world. This topic is included in the SEP syllabus in the fourth unit of the syllabus for second grade of Secondary School. This syllabus:
[… focuses] the learning of a foreign language on what it is that expert language users do when interpreting and producing oral and written texts, preserving the social function of such acts. In other words, the object of study of this foreign language course is the social practices of the language.
(SEP, 2006, p.9)
Therefore, what the SEP Syllabus emphasizes is teaching the foreign language through cultural aspects evident in the Target Language. One of these evidences is shown in students’ use of their knowledge of the world by applying “specific strategies to get the general idea and some detail from a variety of spoken and written texts” (SEP, 2006, p.21).
In order to develop target cultural and language awareness in secondary school students, the SEP Syllabus conceives learning as the process of experiencing different situations in which students use the target language, that is to say, this syllabus is designed based on the experiential language learning approach:
[…] experiential learning provides a powerful tool to focus on real life communication first with its social rules and true purposes, and construct or reconstruct rules of use later. Second, that experiential learning can help learners to acquire skills for the construction of knowledge (learning how to learn), by raising an awareness of the learning processes that they follow, and by systematizing these processes. Finally, experiential learning seeks to develop individuals who are competent, who have initiative, sensitivity to others, and awareness of practical realities, as well as sufficient confidence, insight, skill and flexibility to act effectively in a changing world, thus promoting personal growth.
(SEP, 2006, p.10)
The aim of this approach is to encourage students to learn a foreign language in an integrative style. This means they do not know linguistic aspects of the target language, but they also learn some features of the target culture and understand how the speakers of the foreign culture conceive life, what are some similarities and differences between Mexican culture and the target culture. The result is students are aware of the fact that learning a foreign language is also learning some aspects of the target culture.
As a consequence, the topic chosen for this lesson, houses in different places around the world, gives the opportunity to raise awareness in second grade secondary school students about cultural aspects of the target language. This leads to the demonstration of intellectual curiosity about the target culture and empathy toward its people (Scholes, 2010), which is the general objective of the lesson and the reason why I chose this particular topic.
For developing this cultural lesson plan, I chose to be the subjects of it a group of second grade students of the state secondary school number three from the afternoon shift, whose ages range from thirteen to fifteen years old. This secondary school is at number eight Primo Tapia Street, in the Emiliano Zapata Colony. They attend to English lessons due to it is a compulsory subject. I have observed that given the fact English lessons are compulsory and, probably due to students’ experiences in the previous English course, most of them perceive English lessons as boring. For this reason, one challenge to overcome is to make this lesson attractive in terms of getting students’ attention to the tasks they will carry out. The main vehicle to overcome that challenge is the application of an effective methodology, in this case, the experiential language learning approach.
The activities proposed to be done by students are based on the experiential language learning approach. This approach conceives learning as knowledge construction process, that is, that “every individual is constantly and actively involved in making sense of the world by constructing (or reconstructing) meaning from the interpretation of personal experiences” (SEP, 2006, p.10).
This means that students at the first stage of the lesson will experience the topic of house by listening to a song and identify the title of the song, which is the topic of the lesson. Then they will move to the reflection stage of other countries’ houses by labeling some pictures of different houses after seeing a power point presentation related to the topic. After that, they will show if they have understood the information presented up to this stage by listening again to the song at the same time as they are completing the lyric. In addition, they will answer a set of comprehension questions. Finally they will experiment with what they have already understood by reading three kinds of advertisements of houses for sale or in rent, choosing the best ad, designing their own following the model of the best ad, and trying to sell their house. These four stages of this lesson fit in the four stages of the Model of Experiential Learning (SEP, 2006).
For the Experiential language learning approach to be effective, the paper of the teacher in this methodology is to be the students’ guide in the process of meaning construction, whereas the student is who construct his or her knowledge. That is:
In the present curriculum, the student is considered an active constructor of knowledge. The teacher, on the other hand, is conceptualized as a more experienced language user who is in charge of creating the conditions for students to approach language, and of guiding the process. The teacher is thus responsible for establishing a dialogue with students about and through texts, so that learners become effective participants of an English speaking community: the classroom.
(SEP, 2006, p.15)
For this reason, in this lesson the teacher is the one who sets the activities in order students can learn and construct their knowledge about houses around the world. Additionally, this lesson will allow students to enrich their knowledge about the target culture and language.
The lesson plan designed to carry out this lesson has six steps. The reason of having six steps was in order to develop the four stages of the experiential language approach. In the first stage of the lesson is a warm up. It his warm up the students will experience the topic of house. They will do it by listening to a song and identify the title of the song, which is the topic of the lesson. The reason of doing this task is in order to activate students’ schemata about the topic of houses around the world. The importance of activating students’ schema lies on Widdowson & Cook (in Singhal, 1998) statement about schema. They agree that schema allow us to relate incoming information to already known information that “covers the knowledge of the world, from everyday knowledge to very specialized knowledge” (Singhal, 1998, para.4). Once students’ schemata are activated, the following steps can be completed.
The second step, or the reflection stage, is a Lead-in. In this stage, students will see different pictures of houses in England, the USA and in Xalapa by means of a power point presentation. Then, in pairs, they will answer a hand out in which they have to decide the country where each house is located and the name of each house. After that they check their answers. The reason of this step is in order to raise awareness in students about different architectures of houses around the world.
The third step is oriented to the practice stage. Students will listen again to the song at the same time as they are completing the lyric. This is a follow-up activity. In addition, they will answer a set of comprehension questions related to identifying the arguments the singer uses to give reasons why he likes his house. This step will be done so as students are aware of how to justify opinions.
The fourth, fifth and six steps are designed in order students experience the target culture and language. The fourth step is a controlled task in which students will read three advertisements related to buying and renting a house in England, The USA and Xalapa. Additionally, they will identify the main characteristics of each advertisement. The purpose of this task is in order to activate students’ schemata about how to write an ad related to the topic of buying and renting a house. The fifth step is a free task in which students in groups of three design their own advertisement selling or renting a house or a flat. This task will be done so that students are aware about how to offer a house or a flat. This task will be done in groups of three so that students share their impressions about how to design an attractive advertisement and socialize the knowledge. By socializing knowledge is understood to establish and maintain social contacts by “exchanging information, views, feelings and personal wishes, amongst others” (SEP, 2006, p.22).
The final step is a semi-controlled task. This task consisted in students trying to convince the teacher, who will act as a tenant or a buyer, to rent or buy their houses. This task has two purposes. This fist one is in order to raise awareness in students about how to offer and convince other people to buy or rent their own houses or flats. This purpose is also reflected on the SEP syllabus as students will be able to carry out certain basic transactions, such as buying and selling items (SEP, 2006). The second purpose is to evaluate if students have understood how to offer a house or a flat and if they have enjoyed the lesson.
Result and Analysis
After having piloted the lesson plan and having observed the class, different results were obtained. First, students at the warm-up step found it quite difficult to identify the title of the song. This might happen due to they tried to understand every single word in the song. Only one student could identify the word house, which has the clue. After that, I wrote down on the whiteboard the title of the song, our house.
When students were doing the second task, they paid attention to the power point presentation. After seeing the slides, they answer a hand out in which they have to decide the country where each house is located and the name of each house. I noticed they got confused when writing in the first hand out (see appendix 1) the name of the house and the country where it belongs. This was because I did not write besides the first line the word country, and besides the second one name. This fact must be taken into account for further presentation so as students do not get confused. Despite this fact, they could complete satisfactory this task.
At the moment students were doing the third task, I noticed students made an effort to identify the missing words in the lyric at the same time as they were listening to the song (See appendix 2). This led me to play again the song in order they could fill in the remaining blanks they could not complete in the first attempt. Fortunately, this problem I had already taken into account in advance when I was setting the timing for each task. This was the main reason I decided to devote 10 minutes to do this task.
After they filled in the lyric, I gave a piece of paper with two questions (See appendix 3) with the purpose students could identify the words of expressions the singer used to give reasons why he liked his house. When they were answering these questions, they had some doubts about how to identify those words or expressions. Therefore, I explained that those expressions were in the lyric and were some words they fill in when they listened to the song. I consider their doubt arose because I did not explained in advance that the words they fill in when they listened to the song would be necessary to answer the questions. This fact must be also considered for further presentation.
When students were doing the fourth task, I guided students in the analysis of the advertisements. This is the reason I labeled this task as a controlled one. I made students reflect on the structure of the three ads. Additionally, I asked them questions such as which advertisement is more attractive? Which ad is more economical to publish? Which ad is at the same time attractive and economical?, and which is the best ad? All of them agreed the first ad (the one about Tapestry Building) was the best one. They followed that model for designing their own ad. I noticed that by posing those questions they could identify the most suitable advertisement. This promote in students self-reflection about how to write an ad related to the topic of buying and renting houses.
For developing the fifth task, I asked students to write their own advertisements in their notebooks. This decision was taken because I forgot the previous session telling them to bring bond paper, makers and pictures of houses and flats. When they were writing their ads, I was monitoring their work. In addition, they asked me for help because they did not know some words related to parts of a house. Finally, I realize the importance of telling them in advance what material they will need for the next session. If I had told them in advance the list of materials they needed, this task would be more meaningful for them. Despite this fact, I perceived they enjoy doing this task.
The last task was very challenging for them. The main reason is that they felt uncomfortable speaking in English. Therefore, I agreed they mixed some Spanish words with English ones. The result was they tried to convince me to buy or rent their houses by means of giving reasons why their houses were the best. I noticed this task was successful because they felt confident to speak due to I let them to speak in Spanish.
In conclusion, I can say that after participating in this project I feel quite strange. This is because I had never given such a class in which the main aim was to teach culture rather that the language in itself. I am more accustomed to teach the foreign language and forget about the target culture. However, after seeing the good results this lesson plan showed, I am convinced on the importance of integrating cultural elements in my lessons.
I could notice students enjoyed the lesson. All the time they were interested in doing the tasks and nobody refused to do any task. Additionally, I perceived they liked the song. This was probably because the song’s rhythm, which I consider is very catchy. Another remarkable aspect of this lesson was some students I asked if they had enjoyed the lesson told me that yes. Indeed, one of those students told me that I should give more frequently lessons like that.
I also learned that lesson paining is not an easy task. It requires time, concentration and anticipate problems. Furthermore, designing materials requires paying attention carefully in every aspect. For example, the fact of not writing specific instructions leads students to get confused. Additionally, if a teacher does not give clear instructions, students will go on the wrong track, as I noticed when answering the questions in task number three.
Topic: The house of your dreams
Ss Level: 2nd graders Secondary School
General Objective: The Students demonstrate intellectual curiosity about the target culture and empathy toward its people.
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Cakir, I. 2006. Developing cultural awareness in foreign language teaching, in the Turkish online Journal of Distance Education. Volume 7, July 2006.
Lessard-Clouston,M. 1997. Towards an Understanding of Culture in L2/FL Education, in the Internet TES journal. Retrieved at http://iteslj.org/Articles/Lessard-Clouston-Culture.html.
Scholes,B. 2010. Cultural awareness anthology. U.V.
SEP, 2006. Lengua Extranjera, Inglés. Programas de Estudio 2006. Mexico, SEP.
Singhal,M. 1998. A Comparison of L1 and L2 Reading: Cultural Differences and Schema, in the Internet TES journal. Retrieved at http://iteslj.org/Articles/Singhal-ReadingL1L2.html.