Marisa Pavan

Choices and Challenges in ELT – Marisa

Challenges and Solutions 
Marisa Pavan

Marisa Pavan
“Action is the response to challenge, and the response is from the background of culture, social influences and tradition, so it is always old. Challenge is always new, otherwise you wouldn’t call it challenge. Unless response is adequate to challenge there must be conflict  –  Jiddu Krishnamurti

I find that definition is insightful, since in ESL classes there are always new issues to be faced, which are as unique as each student forming part of that class is, and as teachers we should make use of our expertise to address those issues so that our students feel motivated to learn and develop their skills.

One of those challenges has to do with the language that students use in class. In my case, as Spanish is my students’ native language, they resort to it whenever they have trouble expressing themselves. A helpful linguistic resource I make my students practise is paraphrasing. Students should be given cues such as ‘It’s a sort of/kind of/an object used for … etc.’ Pair work competition is highly motivating for students and one of the tasks I make students do in order to make an effort to use different words to refer to the same idea is provide student A and student B with a different list of words for them to challenge their partners to paraphrase it.

Another challenge has to do with ‘clashes’ between what I plan for a certain class and the concerns with which students arrive at the classroom. Not paying attention to those concerns is not a good idea, since students won’t be able to focus on an activity if their mind is not free from other thoughts. I think a good idea is to profit from that situation and devise an on-the-spot task connected to your students’ concern. It can be watching a video of a song related to the issue. While listening to the song we can discuss the story behind the video or the connection between the video and the song lyrics. Another option is to make students listen to a song and choose a phrase from the lyrics that describes the way they feel at present.

Encouraging students to do extra activities at home for practice can also be challenging. I create communities from Google+ to share material with my students. I organise this material into sections: Vocabulary, Games, Grammar, Listening Skills, Reading Skills, Writing Skills, Songs, Dictionaries, Questions, etc. As not all my students visit the Google+ community when being notified, in class I show them what I have posted and do my best to motivate them so they visit the community at home. Whenever a student makes a comment or share something, I show them I have read it and make a suitable comment.

From my viewpoint, one effective way to be able to overcome these issues is to listen to your students thoroughly. That will offer clues to find out what kind of topics and tasks are interesting to your students or are suited to their needs. Being able to detect that is a great asset for teachers and will be helpful to develop an excellent rapport with your students.

To strengthen this teacher-student rapport, negotiation is essential. As teachers, we should take the role as facilitators and students should be given the opportunity to grow as independent learners. We should be flexible enough so students don’t feel under pressure and all decisions that have to do with the teaching-learning process should be agreed.


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Marisa Pavan

Marisa has been teaching ESL/EFL in a variety of contexts for over 20 years. She's a translator, an interpreter and an assistant to the supervisor of an educational consultancy firm that takes Argentinean students to London on cultural trips. She is a life-long learner who's passionate about sharing with educators from all over the world. Her favourite tools are wikis, which she creates and shares with her students so as to develop learners' autonomy. She has a personal wiki called Linguistic Consultancy.

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