“This feels like the chapter of our first book“, a colleague said as we finalized the companion workbook for the text we will use this semester. And he was right to think so, for the outcome was truly amazing.
We have been using (authentic) literature to teach our EFL and ESL, and it is for this reason that we design all of the learning experiences based on the novel. In other words, we use the context in the novel to address the grammar points we want to review or teach; we use the events in the story to generate examples, and to find connections with other subject areas. Moreover, for every concept and theme that we identify, we strive to locate resources such as images, movies or songs that can enable us to enrich the teaching – learning by helping us expand on the variety of contexts that we can cover, while we also further and deepen our understanding on a specific topic by looking at it from different perspectives.
While this is not something new, but an eclectic potpurri of different strategies in teaching, what makes the Spiral Action Reading Approach (SARA) indisputably interesting is how personal it is. Yes, there is a lot of work and thinking involved, but there is great value in the effort as well. Since we, teachers, make initial choices on the stimulus we decide to integrate because we know them well and can exploit them successfully, it is significantly easier to be flexible when we see how students respond to them. Since we have strong reasons for choosing the resource we have chose, we seem to always find the skill to tweak it and alter it accordingly. Most importantly, we will always find a way to make room for students’ contributions to the lesson and for addressing their interests in that regard, for they are the center of our teaching.
Choosing the stimulus that we use to make further connections with the story and situations in the book has turned our teaching moments into a very personal experience, for everything is about us. Yes, we are still utilizing the books that are part of our curriculum, and implementing the resources the other colleagues before us have created; but we have also been given the chance to experiment and try new ways. Nothing compares to the freedom of adding to or substituting a task is we think something else could work better, as long as we place this new task in the final product we will pass on to the new teachers who will use this same resource in future years. Believe it or not, this helps us establish a connection with the teachers before us and after us, for our collective experience is recorded there.
Aldo, my colleague, and I got the portfolio for teaching The Cement Garden and we automatically saw the amount of effort deposited in the structure of the tasks, the balance and the skills it was promoting. Yet, as we starting responding to the tasks, as if we were the students, we felt were automatically motivated to add new experiences for the tasks that were handed to us truly helped us visualize the ample panorama of possibilities for we found the tasks so stimulating that we knew we had to contribute to enhancing the experience.
We added activities using movies we like; references to the lyrics of songs that can enhance students’’ critical thinking skills and that can help them explore different learning scenarios; and we put together a series of inquiry question collections that can help teachers and students see the novel as a friendly resource that will help them live the very own story the discussions will let them see.
When we are given a book to read, we are given a universe; when the ideas of teachers that
have taught with it are shared with us, we are given keys to that universe and an opportunity to augment our experience in it. Inevitably, when one navigates the a learning environment with strategies that help us to appreciate the life within a book, we do not think of it as the boring object that we have been asked to read in silence, but as guidelines that will serve as company as we explore that world.
It is interesting that although my colleague and I know we teach thinking of the experience as a process, it was through a product that we were able to enrich the process. The difference this product an a single outcome (as the results of a test) is that the product contains stories, and each of those gets to tell its tale every time it is used.
Below is the manual we generated in 2006 (before googledrive). It has been uploaded in 2014 in case readers of this blog want to experience THE PRODUCT.