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JENNY DOOLEY:
Focusing on interaction
as a joint skill

Вторник 18 Октябрь 2011

Jenny Dooleyнастроение: дружелюбное

keywords: Russia, coursebooks, Starlight, impressions, tests, phonetics, grammar period, speaking, interaction, the fifth skill

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF RUSSIA IN TERMS OF BOTH EDUCATION AND BUSINESS?

Well, from the business point of view I expect, as usual, professionalism and perfectly organized events. I’ve been working with you for many years and it’s never disappointing. Russian teachers’ and publishers’ professionalism for at least 6 years has been perfect.

From the educational point of view, one of the things I enjoy here is the level of teaching. In my opinion (and I say it all over the world) Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Polish teachers have the best educational level. I’m sure there are good teachers in other parts of the world, like in Argentina for example, their level is quite high too. But in Russia even if you go to depths of the country, you find children speaking English which you don’t find in other countries. Pupils that might have never even spoken to a foreigner, respond when one speaks to them in English. And their responses are in good English. They don’t just respond a little bit, but they speak in full English sentences, which for me is always surprising. I really enjoy talking not only to teachers, but to students in Russia because I know that I will be understood. This is one of my expectations and it’s always fulfilled.

I’ve never had any negative impression about educational level of the teachers in Russia. However, I always do have another kind of expectation: sometimes some teachers come up to me and ask me some unusual questions. Once a teacher asked me something about Lord Byron. They think that as an English course author I am all-knowing, that I know everything about the English culture and English mentality, which I don’t. Everybody has limits and so do I.

WHAT SURPRISED YOU THIS TIME?

The way the teachers responded at the demo-lessons and they did it well. Let’s be honest. It was vigorous training. I was trying to prepare the teachers for possible hardness and hardship they might be facing in a classroom, possible questions, possible negative attitudes, any negative factors that you can’t predict. And despite this fact the teachers reacted very positively. I’ve always been told that Russian teachers have a conservative point of view on their teaching, but I often see open-minded people who are ready to experiment, who are not shy especially during the demo-lessons, and this is what is still surprising for me.

WAS IT A GOOD EXPERIENCE COMBINING TWO KINDS OF SEMINARS — GENERAL TOPICS AND DEMO-LESSONS?

Yes, I honestly think that was the best and most fruitful time. Of course teachers need academic training, but they get all that at universities, they don’t really need me as a lecturer for that. I think it’s more valuable for me to try to explain to them my mentality, my way of thinking when I am writing the books. It is essential that the teachers could understand the strategies of the series, what is it that brings the books together and makes them work. For example, in Italy or Spain classes are innovative, original, free and creative, but still there are teachers there who don’t correctly identify lesson aims, especially in Primary level. So I think it’s important to pinpoint certain things that help them get better results from the material.

DO YOU USE TEACHERS’ ADVICE AND IDEAS IN YOUR BOOKS?

Absolutely. And not only teachers’ advice. For example, today I saw something which I found interesting. I saw a teacher trying to help students produce some of the dialogues through TPR activities. That was very innovative  and of course I’m going to use it. I am learning too, as I’ve said I also have my limitations, I don’t know every single thing. All the suggestions are welcome. I pay attention not only to teachers’ comments, but to students’ attitude too. That’s why when I go around, I visit schools and I actually sometimes chuck the teachers out of the classroom and have private interviews with the class, asking them about the lessons, what they like, what they don’t like, what they would like me to change, and they give me ideas for future publications. For example, about three years ago when I had an interview with students in Turkey, they asked me, “Why don’t you have anything about aliens in your books? Please, make a book with aliens”. And I did. For their country I made a coursebook where main characters are aliens.

AND WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT COURSEBOOKS THAT YOU WRITE FOR RUSSIA? WHAT IS DIFFERENT?

I usually try to insert a lot of sections on the local culture and I also take into account the local way of teaching. For example, if we speak about Russian editions, the phonetics section that we have, doesn’t exist in other books for other countries. There might be some teachers who teach phonetics, but it’s not common practice in junior classes. For adults maybe yes, but for kids not. I’ve never seen second year primary school students learning the difference between symbols anywhere but in Russia. This is one of the differences. Also, another factor is that teachers here prefer long texts. We tried to include many texts for reading to satisfy teachers’ needs and necessities, but we tried to do it in such a way which would still be entertaining for students. We don’t want just to stuff the language down their throats, we want to please both teachers and students, but to do it in an enjoyable way.

What’s more important, to know the rules of football or to be able to play it? To be able to play it, of course. So that’s exactly why nowadays the techniques are slightly shifting. We don’t focus so much on the rules and their memorization. We mostly focus on the application of grammar, its functionality and «utilization».

AND WHAT ABOUT TESTS? DO YOU THINK RUSSIAN TEACHERS’ METHODS OF WORKING WITH TESTS DIFFER FROM OTHER COUNTRIES?

Well, many teachers around the world like tests. This is not a unique trend in Russia. In my opinion, tests are a proof of insecurity for teachers. They want to test students to see, if they are doing the right thing, if their students are progressing, if they are getting the right marks and scores. But you can assess students differently, not only through tests, but through daily participation, through activities and games, through good classroom assignments. This of course needs good classroom management and techniques. If it were up to me, I would never put any tests in Primary school at all. Because these are foundation years for students, they must enjoy what they are learning. Let’s be honest, any test situation, even if it’s an oral test, is stressful. If tests could be disguised in games and activities, then possibly they wouldn’t be so stressful. The moment you say “test” — that’s it. Students are stressed. Not all of them of course, but the majority of the classroom are. I had such an experience when I was a student myself. Even when I was fully prepared for my lessons, the moment the teacher said the word “test”, I was shaking.

TELL US, TEACHERS FROM WHICH COUNTRY LOVE GRAMMAR MOST?

Russia. You are in love with grammar. Grammar is a very important factor of any language. In order to understand how a language functions, you need to know its grammar. But the main thing is understanding and not just memorizing rules and structures. Here is the difference between what we used to do in the past and what we are supposed to do today. In the past, unfortunately, we used to give our students an endless amount of tables and structures and rules and exceptions and they had to memorize them. But what’s more important, to know the rules of football or to be able to play it? To be able to play it, of course. So that’s exactly why nowadays the techniques are slightly shifting. We don’t focus so much on the rules and their memorization. We mostly focus on the application of grammar, its functionality and “utilization”. Of course grammar exists in our books, it’s the backbone of any language, but you can’t just revolve a lesson around grammar, there are skills that are also very important. During the “grammar period” students were just passively taking information from the teacher and the teacher expected the students to go home, study and take a test the next day. That was it. Now this is no longer the case. Students are the centre of the classroom and are more involved in the lesson. It’s not only filling the gaps and answering questions, but using thinking skills, practicing speaking, practicing interaction — the fifth skill which was neglected in the past. Interaction means understanding the other speaker in order to respond appropriately. This is the fifth skill according to Common European Framework. It’s not pure listening or speaking, it’s a joint skill and we’re focusing on that now. And problem appears at the moment when the teacher takes aim on formation and usage of the language rather than teaching the language itself. And the only way to teach the language is to make students speak. If teachers teach students only the formation, he or she is the one who’s doing the practice, not the students.

2 Comments »

людмила:

Many thanks for your interesting and honest article.It seems to me that are really in love with Russia and Russian teachers because your books are written in such unusual and kind way. All the best to you!

5 Ноябрь 2011 | 22:13
BULANKINA:

MANY THANKS TO YOU/DEAR

6 Февраль 2015 | 18:09
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