Il docente H. ha proposto al docente P., tramite e-mail, un formato per il loro esame finale congiunto sulla didattica della lingua inglese. Si tratta di una tesina di circa 1500 parole, da scrivere e da presentare almeno una settimana prima della data dell'esame, che il corsista dovrà difendere poi in sede di colloquio orale. Tema della tesina sarà l'analisi dei bisogni di un determinato gruppo di studenti di lingua. I corsisti che già insegnano, ad esempio (e sono numerosissimi), non dovranno far altro che indagare sui bisogni reali dei propri studenti, utilizzando i criteri forniti nei due corsi.
Ma cosa s'intende per "bisogno reale"?
Nella loro corrispondenza, infatti, i due docenti scoprono che va chiarito meglio questo concetto. Dovrebbero i corsisti definire i bisogni dei loro studenti in termini strettamente linguistici, indicando, ad esempio, il Lessico e la Fraseologia necessario per svolgere determinati lavori? Ad esempio, se i corsisti insegnano in un Istituto per il Turismo, costituirebbe un adeguata definizione dei bisogni dei loro studenti un elenco che fornisce la fraseologia della compravendita di biglietti, la terminologia dei mezzi di trasporto", ecc.?
Nel brano che segue, il docente P. esprime i suoi dubbi in merito -- dubbi, del resto, condivisi dal docente H. e che daranno luogo ad una definizione più articolata del compito da svolgere.
Viene chiesto, ad esempio, se non sarebbe il caso lasciare scegliere ai corsisti tra analizzare i bisogni dei loro studenti e svolgere un "genre analysis" sui programmi ministeriali e sui libri di testo più in uso. (L'analisi di "genere" consiste nel raggruppare per categoria, specificandone gli obiettivi, i direttivi ministeriali e gli esercizi nei testi più comuni. In teoria, questo lavoro dovrebbe fornire all'insegnante una tavolozza di orientamenti e di attività da cui attingere per elaborare la sua proposta d'insegnamento.) Il docente P. rimane perplesso. Ricorda come le analisi di "genere" producono spesso solo elenchi su elenchi di concetti ; ciò non aiuta a definire specifici traguardi didattici e può non dare nemmeno una visione critica dell'insieme. Egli propone invece l'analisi dei bisogni conoscitivi soggettivi degli studenti come compito che prepara meglio all'insegnamento.
>we could consider doing the first 750 words on a needs analysis of their choice and the second 750
>on a set of activities/lesson plans relating to the needs analysis.
O.K. I would, however, like to have the chance to talk with you some time about the concept of "needs analysis" (especially if you do indeed give it an ESP slant). I'm not sure one would want to draw up a curriculum on the basis of that.
Just to give you a hint of where I'm at:
As I mentioned in my previous e-mail, I think teachers have to consider, above all, the PERCEIVED "needs" of the people who are to learn. These do not always entirely coincide with the "vocabulary" that students will be using in their future work, especially if the students are young people. THEIR needs might be, for example, finding out about themselves and their own identity. If a language course addresses THAT "need", it will get them to learn the language much more than if it taught them the vocabulary of their (supposedly) future profession.
I organized and taught company courses for many years and found the same thing there: engineers and secretaries at XXXX, for example, would DECLARE they were interested in learning the phraseology of energy production and distribution. But when I taught in function of that declared need, I found that my students attended lessons as they did their work in the office: some with genuine interest, many half-bored, most doing the minimum to get by. Then, when I finally grasped that what almost all of them aspired to above all was GETTING AWAY from it all (thus most dreamed of trips abroad), I realized that teaching with a cultural slant would, as in the case of the media and superiori students I had taught, get my corsisti "into" English fastest and most proficiently.
Of course, the company wanted ESP taught, so we included, as drill work, exercises in the ESP of energy production in order to "satisfy officially proclaimed needs". I might add that the drills were done even willingly, since the course was centered on something of genuine interest to the students. Some exercises combined the "cultural slant" and workplace discourse: that was like having your cake and eating it, too.
The results were superior to previous courses (in my judgment and in the judgment of the Human Resources people, and allowing for the "halo effect" that accompanies any classroom innovation). Students proved able to pick up quickly whatever special vocabulary we hadn't covered because they had acquired self-study habits and had a framework of relatively fluent English within which to insert new terms.
They themselves told me that it had been something of a waste (in the previous courses) to concentrate on workplace phraseology when they encountered such phraseology continually in their everyday work and therefore could not help but pick it up on their own, given the right tools. What they could not easily pick up in their everyday work, however, was the capacity to associate felt communicative intent with authentic English (American, Irish, Australian...) discourse habits, to perceive the mind set behind the way of speaking of an interlocutor and to adapt their speech accordingly, and so on -- the "communicative-cultural needs" I addressed in my new courses.
Thus, in my previous e-mail to you, I was questioning if an ESL-oriented and future-job-oriented definition of "needs" is really something we should be encouraging the corsisti to put into practice. It is, of course, something a school administrator or a company Human Resources Office would want, because it looks immediately useful. But I'm thinking of the educational and motivational value to the people who have to do the actual learning.
Well, that in (more than) a few words, is the position I'd like to defend when we find the time to discuss things. It's hard to avoid misunderstandings by e-mail.
>I asked them to think of some ideas for a project this week and they are going to discuss them with me this Thursday. I'll let you know what they decide.
>We could take 50% of the projects each for marking or double mark all of them.
>I think the latter is fairer. What about you?
More work but certainly fairer. Especially if we had a common set of general guidelines. I'm up for it if you are.
>PS I would also like to leave them the option of doing a straight genre analysis
>rather than a needs analysis. It will still involve producing lesson plans and
>activities. And if someone is very keen on looking at syllabi or materials in
>general, I think that's OK too. They're grown ups and I want them to use their
>initiative and own ideas.
I do, too. And I hope I do give them the chance to take initiative and think on their own. But as you can see from my previous comments, I'm suspicious about using prefabricated (textbook) syllabi. And, to be frank, I'm also wary about "insegnanti di lingue " who are "insegnanti di lingue" only because there were no other jobs around for a laureato in letteratura straniera. I'm not speaking of all laureati, of course, but only those who applied for a job as a language teacher, not because they are interested in what their future students need and desire to know linguistically, but because it gives them the chance to talk about their favorite authors (little preparation required), besides getting afternoons off, long vacations, etc. – in short, the usual mentality one finds in run-of-the-mill schools. Assigning genre analysis to teachers like that can, I think, be dangerous.
I am certainly NOT judging THESE corsisti because I don't know them yet (we've had only 3 lessons together). But I have been in other aggiornamenti programs where what I just described is the general attitude. That is why I advised caution. Why caution?
Because, in doing genre analyses, teachers can end up handing over to Higher Authority the responsibility of deciding what the real, current needs of their students are. That authority can be "il Programma Ministeriale" ("che vorrei cambiare ma non posso quindi mi adeguo"), "i testi più in uso" ("che vorrei cambiare ma non ho il tempo quindi mi adeguo"), etc. etc. I would want to avoid giving teachers like that the illusion that they are preparing an adequate syllabus simply because they have dissected widely-used textbooks. According to the textbooks dissected, they MIGHT be able to create a syllabus that matches their students' real, current needs. But, on the other hand, they might simply perpetuate what may be an unsatisfactory status quo (textbook publishers like to play safe and print things that the average teacher is used to).
So a genre exercise can indeed be useful, but only if teachers are capable of doing it critically. That presupposes having carefully thought out, beforehand, what their students need. Our corsisti seem to be like that and, if you confirm that this is so, then by all means genre analysis is to be recommended, since the corsisti can compare THEIR hypothetical syllabus (based on their anticipated students' needs) with what the market offers. Such comparisons can be illuminating and can save one from reinventing the wheel. In addition, comparative genre analysis gives a hands-on appreciation of different teaching philosophies. But without a previously thought out hypothesis of their students' needs, teachers who do genre analysis can end up simply producing "tesi compilative" that lead nowhere.