problems of Arab learners


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3/
7
/2015




F
actors
I
nfluencing
M
y
O
wn
C
lassroom

Environment

at

the Macro
, Host Institution,
and

T
eacher's group
s

level


Tishreen University

Lilian Isperdon

1


Outline


I
-

Introduction
























.
.


2

II
-

The influence of the host educational environment










2

1
-



















...

2

2
-

Foreign culture and traditions

















3

III
-

The influence of the local culture and the local teacher's gro
ups on the
classroom environment




















..
4

1
-


The

influence of the local culture
















4

2
-

The local teacher's
grou
ps on the classroom environment




.
..

5

IV
-

Reaching Conformity among all the overlapping cultures






..

6

V
-

Conclusion
























....
..
7

VI
-

Bibliography























..

8









2



I
-

Introduction:

Throughout this paper I will talk about my own

5
th

grade

classroom when I was a teacher at Al
-
Sham
Oasis Private School. The influence of our Syrian
national
culture largely affected the culture of the
host educational environment

intended to teach students English
using

foreign course books.

The struggle between

the

two cultures ended by adhering to both of them and
reaching a kind of conformity inside the classroom.

II
-

The influence of the host educational environment
:

The influences

of the host e
ducational environment

on the classroom culture

can be classified under
t
wo

types:

1
-

Foreign
M
:

Al
-
Sham Oasis private school
uses the Houghton Mifflin course for
learning English through r
eading
stories, science, and Math.

Houghton Mifflin courses follow the

Cooperative Learning

approach

that
tend

to teach the American learners in their L1 to w
ork in teams
,
provid
e

each
other

with feedback,
challeng
e

reasoning and conclusions, and most importantly, teach

and
encourage
one
another
,
and
mak
e

the classroom

environment

student
-
centered

rather than teacher
centered.
Teachers, in this
should be

integrationist as they
should
follow "skill based, discovery
-
oriented, collaborative
pedagogy" allowing "classroom practice" and
"team
-
oriented" discussions (Holliday,
Appropriate
Methodology and Social Context

1994
). T
which is foreign to our country. They teach their students English knowing that it is only a foreign
language here and use foreign methodologies which seem
difficult and
strange to most
students.


Adhering to the

host educational environment, I
used to divide the class in groups and read some
stories in English

and

s
tudents
should

participate in
discussions based on the events happening within
the st
ory or predicting what it's going to happen next.

They
should be

able to make associations on
their

own between words or phrases and t
heir meaning
,

induce certain structures and study in groups
to answer the written exercises on their workbook
s
.
However,
learning

wasn't just as easy as it was
3


supposed to be

especially for new students coming to school every year
.
The new s
tudents
had
difficulty

in
integrat
ing

within the class
room

discussions or read
ing

and comprehend
ing

large amount
of vocabulary used within the c
ourse which th
ey thought they had to memorize

based on their prior
knowledge of
the
collectionist


commonly used in Syria
.
They
felt

anxious about the exams and considered working in groups and discovery oriented task
s as
trivial
games
and kept on asking me about the examination questions and the things they ha
d

to focus
on inside the course books.
They had difficulty in i
nducing grammar rules out of texts and
understanding unfamiliar words through their contexts.

Mahrous and Ahmed
in their article

"A Cross
-
Cultural Investigation of Students’ Perceptions of the
Effectiveness of Pedagogical Tools
:

The Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States
"
talk about the pedagogy implemented in the Middle East within

public institutions in particular. They
suggest that it depends "solely on

lectures, rote learning, and dictation
" since "
Teaching consists
simply

of illustrating concepts and reading from textbooks
" Furthermore
,
"
the assessment of students
relies almost
entirely on examinations
" that reward

the
"
passive absorption of knowledge
" depending
on memorizations and rarely do they have any "

questions

requiring students to employ what they
have learned to situations outside the classroom
."

(2010
: 291
).
This is
really a

sharp

contrast with the
pedagogic and assessment

systems in
the United States which
usually focus on interactive education
and exams

based on
assignments that bring up
the students understanding and ability to negotiate
meaning alongside with the syntacti
cal structure.
Houghton Mifflin course

books employ foreign
strategies that our students in Syria should be trained previously for before they are able to function
efficiently inside classrooms

but still it was the

host educational
r
equirements

to ad
here to them.

2.

Foreign culture and traditions:

Having chosen
Houghton Mifflin

as a course material
by the management
of the school (the
host
educational environment
)

affects the class environment and the interaction among students and
between teachers and
students

in another aspect
.

Houghton Mifflin
is originally
designed for
American students and their own cultures and norms of conduct. They speak about Jewish and
4


Christian traditions and
celebrations
. They don't mention any celebrations related to the the

Muslim
culture. They call Palestine as Israel and they show children at the same age of the students
(
especially
in the
elementary and
secondary schools
)

leaving their parents and homes to live alone or work for
the summer vacation and this is considered
strange for the students and even caused some problems

for their parents. The diversity of cultures found in America (like having Chinese, African American,
Mexican, and Indian)
already identified with
in the students' textbooks caused a lot of troubles wit
h
me inside classrooms as the students
w
ere

not familiar with
A

ideas and customs and discussions
among students were relatively limited. Students lacked the motivation they needed for the learning
process to continue with the same

Cooperative Learning
approach
.
Parents also

couldn't accept
having
their children taught about
certain ideas
like

the sanctity of the Jewish religion for example. It is fixed
in their minds that

the image of the

Jewish people
should stay as the conquerors who

took over
Palestine and killed the Palestinian people.


Teaching a foreign language goes
inseparably along with
teaching the foreign culture itself.

All the
components of culture, such as beliefs
and
customs
are

described by language
and helping the students
themselves to speak the language efficiently inside classrooms is a way of forcing this culture upon
them.
Pica

in her article "
Questions from the Language Classroom: Research Perspectives
", suggests
that

learner's cultural integration

within the target language is

necessary
f
o
r

learning

a

foreign
.
This

as

"
they work with students in classrooms far removed from
the culture of the language they are learning
" (
1994
: 70
).

Having foreign culture adds to the
complexity of the

teaching
-

learning process and serves as an effective factor to the success or failure
of this process.

III
-

The influence of the local culture and the local teacher's groups on the
classroom environment:

1
-

The influence of the local culture:

S
tudents in
Syria

are expected to regard

teachers as absolute authorit
ies inside the class

and students
are not encouraged to
make any kind of research about any topic
or

engage in group or team activities
5


unless they

are
directly
ordered to do so.
This educational backgro
und, along with the

collectionist
pedagogy

cause the

lack of

problem
-
solving and communication skills
among the students. With the
growing importance of learning English inside our community, parents tend to send their children to
private schools where they will
supposedly
have better chances in improving their
efficiency
in

English.

That further increased

of teaching. However, what is taught is different from what is learnt
.

A
s the students move to student
-
centered classrooms, they need
to
adjust their ways of studying. So, no more
exam orien
ted studying
where they

rely on instructors to summarize
what they need to study and no more
rece
iving and
repeating information. This turning point is not an easy step to accomplish
.

From my personal experience boys started to appear very interested in t
sociocultural and religious influences o
f

their macro culture had some difficulties in integrating with
groups including boys and felt

timid to participate inside the classroom. They showed a kind of
understanding and integration within the learning
process whenever

I checked their group
. However,
in reality
t
hey were

too shy to admit
t
heir

incomprehension of everything that was going on. Th
e
contrast between the deep and the surface actions was largely caused by the sociocultural influence

of the

classroom environment.
Collier

in his book

A Film Study in Classrooms in Western Alaska

(
19
79
)

distinguishes between "two patterns
". The first one is "when the teacher's pace is different
from that of her or his pupils, resulting in low flow. The second pattern is when the teacher's pace is
in harmony with that of pupils, resulting high flow".
I consider the act of th
e
se

girl
s

as "low
flow" as
t
hey

hide

t
heir

ignorance of everything that is happening inside the classroom. The reason for such a
"low flow"
i
n
side

the classroom is
because of the
influence of the local culture

on the classroom
environment.

2
-

T
he local teacher's groups on the classroom environ
ment:

Strict boundaries separated the English subject us
ed in

Houghton Mifflin course

from the other
subjects which were mainly similar to any state school in Syria following a kind of communicative
6


approach yet demanding dictation, memorization,
exam oriented environment,
and other collectionist
features. Those course books are obligatory in Syrian schools everywhere and the huge differences
between English teaching and Arabic teaching methodologies caused a lot of problems on the sides
of the stu
dents and the teachers as well.
Students were supposed to have ideas about the topics
mentioned in their English classes in their L1 at least before actually discussing them inside the class.
Some students lacked the information required for the
Cooperativ
e Learning approach

and didn't
integrate with other students within their group which created a "low flow"

again

between the students
themselves (as they are supposed to learn from each other) and a "low flow" between me and them.
Even as teachers inside the tea
chers' room
,

Arabic teachers used to sit separately thinking that they

are the ones responsible for
teaching the main subjects like Math, Arabic, science, social studies, and
religion and
putting
the final marks on the
students
'

final marksheet
.

T
hey
belonged to the
collectionist cu
l
ture
observing different s
u
bjects

with strict
boundaries

among them.


Having
a
va
riety
of teacher groups inside the same school
made the students familiar with both of the collectionst and
and
made the students prefer the
easy way of sitting
still while the teacher is explaining and
answering all their questions.


IV
-

Reaching Conformity among all the overlapping cultures:

Understanding the "social context of English language education" helps to "achieve appropriate

as Halliday (1986
: 13
) suggests. With all the "great

deal of research" done
appropriate for
different situations". The teacher should consequently become more of a researcher to find out what
suits his classroom environment
best. From my experience, within the environment of my classroom,
I tried to understand the problems of my students and did my best to
overcome them. Having a better
connection with my students allowed me to have closer look on their micro cultures and
helped me
und
erstand their problems s
o that I c
o
uld
find solutions to their problems even if it mean
t

not
completely adhering to the school strict methodologies of teaching English.

7


Guiding the students within their groups and motivating them to participate in research
outside
classroom helped them a lot within the classroom environment. Motivating them to use the school
library and read books or watch videos about the American culture or the topics involved in their
book helped them a lot.
I tried to skip
the topics tha
t are somehow
offending to some people as much
as I could and focused on things that motivated the students through their learning process.
Conforming to all the overlapping major factors influencing the classroom is the best way to deal
with classroom
culture. It is really a culture

where the teacher should be concerned with the "social
interaction" happening "within and around classroom language teaching and learning which affects
and therefore helps explain what really goes on"

(p:11)

V
-

Conclusion:

As Breen su
ggests in his
study "
The social context of language learning

a neglected situation
"
(1986)
,
c
of the "internal world of the individual and the social world of the gr
oup"

(p
: 144
)
. Holliday again
emphasizes in his book

Appropriate Methodology and Social Context

(
1994
: 128
) that "classroom
culture" is a combination of "wider […] complex of interrelated and overlapping cultures of different
dimensions within the host educational environment". Halliday states the interrelated cultures
involved as the following "host instituti
on, student, professional academic, wider international
education
-
related and national cultures"

(p:30)

All of them

overlap and determine the kind of
classroom environment happening within any class.








8


B
ibliography


Breen ,

Michael P. 1986The Social Context for Language Learning
-
A Neglected

Situation

Collier, Malcolm. 1979. Collier A Film Study of Classrooms in Western Alaska Center for Cross
-
Cultural Studies University of Alaska.

Holliday,
Appropriate Methodology and Soci
al Context

1994.

Mahrous, A. A., Ahmed, a. a. (2010). A Cross
-
Cult
ural Investigation of Students’
Perceptions of the

---
Effectiveness of Pedagogical Tools: The Middle East, the

United Kingdom, and the United States.

Pica
, Teresa.

"Questions from the Language Classroom: Research

Perspectives"


(1994).



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