The Challenges of Teaching English in High School in Brazil

Brazil

by Mainly Reinhardt Vieira dos Santos Fumene

When it comes to regular education in Brazil, much has been debated and questioned throughout the years. Teachers face a lot of challenges and most of the time are called insane to choose this career, especially when it comes to working in regular schools and, even more in high school. I have been teaching English in high school in Brazil for some time and this experience has led me rethink all my practice and I would like to share what I have discovered with you.

Global panorama

In most Brazilian schools, English is taught from the very beginning of children’s education, but the majority of students do not leave the third year of High School with even the minimum of proficiency needed for applying for a job or traveling abroad. Often, they have to resort to language schools to fill this lack of knowledge. At the school where I worked, this situation was the same. Thus, I started to wonder whether it was possible to change this status quo or not.

Basically (and unfortunately) the goal of the school in Brazil is to guide the student to pass their national exam, aka as ENEM (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio) which is one of the ways to get into the University. All materials are designed to accomplish this goal and they are full of grammar topics and never-ending texts. Alongside this,when learners get into the High School, they come with a vast background sometimes without any English at all, leading to a class of numerous different levels with exercises to be done and tests in the end of the term. So, how I as an educator could improve this situation?

Almost giving up

For a long time, I believed that changing my situation was utterly impossible. I was the only teacher who wanted to go against the flow and was on the brink of giving up almost every class but I kept going because the desire to promote real learning was so strong. I actually lost a lot of sleep over it.

Letting go of lecturing

One of the things that I first considered changing was lecture classes. It is widely known that adolescents have a short concentration span and having a teacher talking for 60 minutes straight is not the definition of having fun in class. After thorough research, I discovered some strategies that I allowed me to help my students and improve their learning skills.

Flipping the classroom

One of the resources I found was using the Flipped Classroom. Instead of throwing all grammar subjects on them, I started sharing some grammar videos with them or sending some blog posts to them. By doing so, I noticed that they were more confident when they had to put into practice the grammar topic. They could revisit the video as many times as possible and solve any problem that had come up.

Using e-tools

Another amazing tool which aided me enormously was some websites where students played games, created posters and increased their creativity. With Kahoot they played grammar, vocabulary and general culture games, with Padlet they created posters about their favorite heroes or made a mind map of the present continuous. Using lyrics training, students were able to improve their listening skills and have a lot of fun and with Google forms they practiced listening, grammar and writing. All these e-tools took them away from this regular and boring environment, it was totally amazing to see how they got more excited class by class.

I like to move, move it!

Imagine spending six hours sitting at a very uncomfortable desk listening to a teacher speaking all the time… This scenario is extremely common in a high school classroom and students lose motivation and suffer from lack of interest. When I proposed that they move around the class, the first reaction was negative. My learners were so used to being on their comfort zone that one single change was taken badly, however, I insisted.

Following the idea inside the Blended Learning theory, I separated the group into four different stations.

In each station they had to do a different task, for example: in my first grade class they were learning future forms. At the first station, they created a mind map with the form of the future. At the second, they did some exercises from the prescribed exercise booklet. At the third, they wrote sentences and at the last one, they had to complete a diagram that answered the question “What can I do to make the future better?”

In this diagram they had levels to complete which were: me, my class, my community, my country. To wrap up they shared their views to the group. All of them passed through each station and had to participate in all to achieve the main aim of the lesson, they helped each other all the time.

I used this strategy for a while and realized that my learners were much more interested in my classes, they felt that they were really putting into practice what they had acquired. I did not need a super different resource or a revolutionary tool, sometimes I used the technology lab or student’s own mobiles. After some time working this way, I was able to find that some of my students had improved their grades in up to 50% (#true)! My head coordinator is as crazy as me and accepted my ideas without any objection, I am truly happy that I had some free will concerning the way I deliver my classes.

The main point of this article was to show that it is possible to make a difference in a regular English class, it is feasible and appreciated greatly by students.

I Do you teach high school? Have you had any experience like that?