Digital Literacies in the Age of EIL.
Nina MK, Ph.D
As Gavin Dudeney rightly notes, “we are teachers of the language of global communication”.
I mostly teach EL teachers of all levels now. What I love to share is Creativity and Imagination. While teaching students of all levels and ages for 25 years, I did a lot of international projects via the internet, and I know firsthand how much this kind of activity helps develop language and communication skills.
* All-Inclusive. Any project, any activity we embark on works best if we manage to include ALL our pupils. It follows that before we start, we should look at our class carefully and decide who can do what. Some kids are good at drawing, others at writing, while yet others may have a fertile imagination. Naturally in any group, there are children who either lag behind or are too shy, or unsure of their own abilities. It takes time to plan and arrange everybody’s participation. It is gratifying to observe even the slowest pupils gradually become interested and work well with their peers.
* International Teacher Cooperation. We cannot engage in an international project without partners from other countries. Once we find a theme, a project which is definitely within the scope of our classes’ interests and talents, we may go on to establish some contacts . We interact with our own colleagues and our students interact with partners of their own age living all around the globe.
*Information Exchange. When we establish communication and set up the parameters, the timeline, we may begin a regular correspondence and/or talks using any modern means of communication. Children ask unpredictable questions; they are fascinated by everyday things and events which are so familiar, we adults never notice them. They share the school program, lesson plans, vacation schedules, pictures and essays. Among the most unexpected questions we have received from our partners are these:
** What’s the white stuff that covers the ground? Is it allowed to step on it? (Snow).
** Why is everybody in your class white?
** How do you mean, there are twenty different subjects in your final year schedule?!
** Do you really go cross-country skiing during your PE lessons?!
Such questions broaden up the students’ horizons, help them realize that in another country things may be totally different from what they are used to at home. Students usually make presentations about their work; a class site is also one of the results after a project is completed. Several times, we formatted and printed our own booklets with the children’s essays and drawings, and shared them with our partners. They did the same for us.
The former debate on whether we should call our subject ESL or EFL now seems to be over. We are in the era of EIL, English as an International Language; I would even use THE instead of AN in this definition. How can we incorporate a focus on one or more of the four literacies in our classes today? How do we teach our students to “participate in wide social groupings that transcend geographical, religious and ethnic boundaries (intercultural literacy)”, as Gavin Dudeney formulates it? I believe there are several challenging problems which we teachers are facing. And no, I don’t believe that the powers that be will e.g. raise our salaries or quickly arrange teacher refresher courses for us designed to help us cope with the new reality. Those who are drowning should save themselves, the old saying goes. In other words, we have to cope. It seems a little ridiculous to be discussing only methodological problems when we are all suddenly thrown into the midst of a huge change. The daily news shows us the endless tide of humanity migrating to and through Europe. When some interviews are shown, the only language of communication regardless of the country where it was conducted is indeed English, for the reporters, migrants and locals. Yet we can see and hear that for none of them English is their native language. As weeks and months go by, the picture becomes clearer in some respects, more confusing in others, overwhelming in all senses.
We are used to dealing with the usual school triad, teacher-pupil-parent, on a daily basis. We know how to function within the national curriculum. Discipline and motivation are our staples. Can any of us teach our local students all the four traditional skills plus grammar? Naturally. Can we incorporate one, four or a dozen digital literacies into our lessons if needed? Sure. What is our natural professional and parental reaction towards kids? Children between certain ages should be taught, period. That’s the law in any European country. It is a given, one of the mainstays of our society.
Once autumn came, many countries began to talk about the shortage of teachers in the new formidable situation. I read about a tiny village in Germany with the population of 102 people. They got about 1,000 migrants settled nearby. Since they have different sets of values, religious, ethnic and cultural mores, it results in the huge change for the local population. Life suddenly became unsafe for their children for instance. I can’t imagine what can be done about it. But as an experienced teacher, I would not dream of not offering support to my colleagues.
There are indeed great religious, ethnic, cultural issues. I have seen this little very telling scene in Germany. A Muslim woman was shopping; she placed her young daughter onto a chair and went into a booth. In a minute, the girl’s brother, aged probably 7, appeared. He stood in front of his sister and gave her a disdainful look. She immediately jumped up and gave him her seat. Many new parents say that they don’t want to send their sons to schools because most of the teachers are women. Lots of interviewees say frankly that they don’t want to integrate, don’t want to send their children to the European schools, don’t want to study a new language, and so on. If families stay on in Europe and are required to send their children to school, we teachers will obviously face challenges which have nothing to do with any language skills.