Teaching English in Morocco: Through My Lens
by Aziz Soubai
As an English teacher with some classroom experience, I assume that most English teachers I meet either online or in regional and national conferences are extremely enthusiastic about their profession. They invest a lot of time and effort not only in the teaching itself, but also in other areas and activities, such as theatre, acting, and public speaking. In this post I’m going to share with you some reflections and ideas on what it is like to teach English in my country that I have gathered from my own modest experience. I will try to shed some light on the major challenges that EFL teachers and learners might face in the language classroom in my country and what kind of techniques or strategies an English teacher like me can use to achieve the lesson objectives more effectively.
Limited exposure to English
First of all, it is worth mentioning that English in Morocco is taught as a foreign language. This means that learners don’t get exposed to English outside the classrooms, except for some highly motivated students (like this awesome little girl in the video). This also means that less exposure to English creates more burdens to the teacher, simply because learners are detached from the language once they are outside the classroom (and sometimes even inside the classroom, which is a worse case). To address this issue I would recommend teachers to encourage their learners to watch American cartoons like “Martha speaks” or “Family guy” with subtitles, or listen to slow tempo songs while following the lyrics. Of course, YouTube is easily full of these learning materials. The teacher’s job is then to assign these activities as homework, which would be an interesting and fun alternative to the regular boring “page number n” kind of homework.
It often happens that students who we label as low achievers detach themselves from English and then have a negative image about themselves as language learners. They lack confidence and persistence and have a very high psychological filter that blocks language production. They become self-conscious and often disrupt other learners in class to get some form of attention. The teacher in this case has to adopt some form of differentiated instruction.
Let’s imagine for a second that you would like to teach your class difficult grammar items (like the passive voice) or ask students to read a particular passage and answer comprehension questions. The teacher in this situation might feel baffled because he or she has to do so many tasks to help all learners to get this particular grammar point or understand the reading passage. It is part of the teacher’s job in this case to explain, for example, very simple vocabulary or the difference between “do” and “watch” to those learners who lack some basic language skills and require remedial teaching. In this regard, I can say that classroom presentations are my favourite strategy. At the end of every unit (which is normally composed of six lessons), I ask those struggling students to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about a particular lesson. That helps the students to regain their confidence and get more engaged in the learning process.
As I advanced in the teaching profession, I learned more ways to effectively engage and manage learners, as well as sustain their interest. One of these ways is having students create their learning portfolios, which is also a great tool for effective English instruction and assessment. I ask students to divide their portfolio into sections, such as “tongue twisters,” “writing drafts,” “what I learned today,” etc. (you can see samples of my students’ portfolios on this page). I also learned to integrate project based learning into my classroom practices. Students love working together and they often come up with creative ideas. We recently moved a little bit further by creating links with local and international schools to collaborate on different topics, such as environment, food, and culture. The collaboration between schools happened mainly on such Learning Management Systems as Edmodo, which offers a safe learning environment. I believe that project work is extremely beneficial for EFL learners because it gives them a chance to practise nearly all language skills and sub-skills like reading, writing, listening, and pronunciation.
Overcrowded classes present another huge challenge that teachers in some regions of Morocco might face, particularly novice teachers. I still remember my very first years in a classroom with 40 students… They were all talking at the same time, laughing, and moving in all directions. It is a really nerve-racking situation. There are two techniques I use in this kind of situations. I first salute the students and try to calm them one by one by checking their lessons and homework until the job is done (this step takes from 10 to 12 minutes). Then I do a quick review of the previous lesson to get their attention, but sometimes I don’t succeed and they slowly get back to the endless talking. I know that noise can be normal in a language classroom, but this type of noise can be really annoying. Additionally, they say that “silence is the sound of thinking,” so I always try to keep things balanced: allow for some noise especially during group work, but don’t tolerate it when I’m giving particular instructions or explaining an important point.
I want to conclude by saying that English is a beautiful language with a natural musicality, rhyme, and rhythm. That’s why teachers here enjoy teaching it despite the aforesaid challenges. They help their learners master the language by creating English clubs. They encourage their students to get involved in local and national competitions, like spelling bee and students talent shows. By helping struggling learners, teachers rethink their own classroom practices and engage in continuous professional development.