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English Teaching Competencies

This new century requires teachers according to the needs of this century's students. The challenge we face is not only to teach content but, to help students to exploit their amazing potential in order to apply their skills in problem solving and, at the same time, being a citizen of the world. It is not only to know; our students need to do something with their knowledge, share ideas to help solving situations in their communities, cities, countries, and the world itself by having confidence in themselves and respecting society, nature, different opinions, races, etc. Our students need to learn to learn by themselves and keep learning through their lives and, school is the place where they have to develop their abilities to face, in the better ways, the problems of this new and complex reality.

Competencies for English language teaching

One of the teaching competencies, proposed by Dr. Philippe Perrenoud (2000), that I consider as a clear indicator for failure or success in the classroom, is how teachers organize and encourage learning situations.
According to dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/competency, September, 2nd, 2008) competency means "quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually". So, this competency tells us that we have to be qualified to promote these learning situations.
The next ideas are based on an interview that Philippe Perrenoud gave on September 2000 and it was called "competencies construction". (http://www.unige.ch/fapse/SSE/teachers/perrenoud/php_main/php_2000/2000_30.html, July, 3rd, 2008)

Organization and encouragement of learning situations

In the English classroom, besides constructing paradigmatic fields, or just seeing the language as isolated concepts which are only resources that students store as ingredients for problem solving, we have to prepare our students to face real situations where language will help them to solve such problems; learning is not storing those ingredients, if we think on competent students, situations in class have to be strongly related to common daily life. The challenge here for teachers is to be competent in creating these situations in class and, for students, to be competent in solving problems with the language; if the teacher can not encourage and organize learning situations, students will not have the opportunity to use real language. From this, the importance of meaningful tasks related to real life. It is necessary that students, instead of only storing knowledge, could take it to another level: the real life; in the family, in the job, with friends, where the developed tools and abilities can help to solve situations they usually deal with. Provided we see students as stores of knowledge to be used in the future, what we would be doing is promoting the acquisition of concepts but, not the procedures to follow to face daily situations. They would have the ingredients but, could not make the cake. In class, our practicum has to be related to the social practices. Students have to acquire tools to deal with these situations, always having in mind where and when, the context, these tools will be at hand to use them. These social practices must be taken from the real life of the community and students' reality; the same activities and content do not work for every single classroom or geographical place. Students' background takes an important role in creating situations alike to those they will deal with in order to put this knowledge into practical life, where it serves to a purpose, is useful, and profitable.
Students, during and after finishing secondary, must know how to use what they learned in school, not only like isolated concepts but, like well practiced abilities, ready to be used conscious or unconsciously. From this perspective, the exam becomes something like a report of how they solved a problematic situation; the performance, where students faced the problematic situation, has to be indeed the main part of assessment. Students will be competent when manage themselves in an adequate way to solve problems where language is the main tool in this problem solving. Thus, English teachers have to create almost real situations in the classroom, where students use input to face them but, not only during exams, if not in every single class. Perrenoud (2000) recommends working on problems or projects where students utilize knowledge and abilities to achieve complex tasks and challenges until complete them. We have to be very careful when organizing such situations; they have to be meaningful for students and linked to the real context. This clearly infers that meaningful is closely related to what students can do with the language in their own town or community. As said before, in secondary, we work with the functional syllabus; this approach clearly describe the social practices that students have to work on but, if we do not contextualized such functions, it will lose a great amount of meaningfulness. In the same way, our own perspective towards teaching will have to change, if needed, into promoters of situations. Our role of lesson-giver will be lowered and a lot of attention has to be paid to the process where students utilize their resources and abilities in competent manners. Teachers will have to look for strategies to create interest in activities, encourage students to take knowledge outside of the walls of school but, seeing that knowledge as tools to use in the real world.
From my perspective, task based approach has a lot to do with this; according to the British Council "Task -based Learning offers an alternative for language teachers. In a task-based lesson the teacher doesn't pre-determine what language will be studied, the lesson is based around the completion of a central task and the language studied is determined by what happens as the students complete it" (http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/articles/a-task-based-approach, September, 10th, 2008). In task based, central tasks have to be completed by using language; in competencies, students have to use language to solve problems of real life. The only problem in secondary is the size of groups. Students have to work in pairs or small groups to do the tasks. If we follow the functional syllabus, the functions will determine what situations have to be created in order to solve the problems and do the tasks. For instance: First grade, Unit 5, function 5.1: Giving simple information about places (RES, SEP, 2006). In order to create a situation and a problem to be solved, students would have to describe their city to a foreigner who wants to walk around and find out about the places to visit. Students would have to use their background, strategies, and knowledge to help the foreigner. It, in fact, could be a task which is based on the function in which students have to be competent. It seems simple but, it is not, there are many issues that must be analyzed; creating situations is not role playing where students act a script, it has to begin with a real problem. This problem has to deal with a situation which could occur in students' lives. They use new input, strategies, abilities, and knowledge to solve it in the best manner according to their criteria. The teacher has to be creative or explain what language works for in order to make the problem meaningful to solve. At the same time, the functional syllabus has to be fulfilled and the sample productions could guide students or be a basis to use language but, not the ultimate goal; the ultimate goal is to solve the problem. The good thing is that, like the multiple intelligences theory (Gardner 1983), by investing time and effort, students would turn competent in facing that particular situation and they could take advantage of strategies consciously or unconsciously, it means they will domain the process and make it automatic. Maybe the analogy of a trained policeman who, in practice, has learned strategies for arresting criminals; his capacities will turn into abilities and, with a lot of practice, he will be an expert. It is going to be easier for him to arrest a criminal by using strategies and abilities learned in almost real situations, which of course are meaningful for this type of work. If he only studies in manuals but, he does not have the opportunity to face a situation alike to one of the streets, at the time of a real arrest, I think he will be rephrasing the instructions, he will have the ingredients but, he will struggle a lot more to arrest the criminal, in other words, he will struggle to make the cake. The design of the simulated problematic situation in the police headquarters has to be almost like one that policemen face in daily work. The policemen's trainer has indeed to arrange the simulated scene of crime by not making it too easy but, challenging to a training police officer and also if the situation is too difficult for a single officer, he will measure the risks to act and will ask back up if necessary.
On the other hand, and going back to English teaching and learning, having as the ultimate goal to solve a problem does not mean that working on vocabulary acquisition, writing and reading sentences, texts, paragraphs, listening to songs, playing in the classroom, drilling, or controlled and artificial activities are useless; many strategies that teachers use in the classroom are necessary input. The matter is that students must use that input, not only to store it.

Submitted by Teacher Francisco Amador

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