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Dana Hanesová: Teachers Need to Go Deeper – Part 2

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Dana Hanesová

Dana Hanesová

Interview by Martina Bednarikova

The whole art of teaching is the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards. Herself rather an awakener, Dana Hanesová knows that in order to teach her students truly for life she simply has to make herself progressively unnecessary. After all, as Nikos Kazantzakis said, “true teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): You are involved in the project “Mobilities – the support of science, research and education at UMB” that aims at developing CLIL practice in Slovakia. What is your role in it?

Dana Hanesová (DH): I have got two roles in the project – I am both a coordinator and a Slovak expert who is learning from a foreign expert who has got lots of experiences in CLIL practice. That means that I facilitate the whole process of transferring her know-how to our Faculty of education, to the future primary teachers. I am responsible for the logistics of the seminars, workshops, university subjects (Methodology of English language learning to young learners, CLIL).

SCET: As far as your experience is concerned, has the general attitude towards CLIL changed for the better over the years in Slovakia? Did you encounter any difficulties when you started working on it?

DH: As I have already said, I do not consider myself to be any big expert on CLIL in Slovakia, I am still learning about it – especially when talking about CLIL with young learners. According to my own teaching experience and listening to colleagues, the soft form of CLIL (teaching content during English lessons) has been a part of primary EFL for a longer time, especially teaching topics that were so naturally associated with other subjects in primary education. The change I noticed is that the idea of CLIL has become much more acceptable for the school managements and for the teacher staff. Though, on the other hand, I am not sure if this attitude generally means also higher competence how to teach it. I have not done any research on statistics about the use of CLIL in Slovakia, but I still cannot see many schools using CLIL in its hard form, teaching subjects and their parts in English language, especially in lower secondary level. But in comparison with, say, ten years ago, at least the students at faculties of education are having a much higher input from the methodologists on this topic, they are aware of its existence and its importance. The question is if the students have got a chance to see some model lectures on CLIL and if they get a chance to try it out during their internship etc… and the same about teachers – how many chances did they get not only to hear about CLIl but to see/observe any real CLIL lesson?

As far as I can see not only were there several problems with CLIL application in its beginning, but I think some of them are can still here. Let me give an example. My PhD student has done a research on interaction during CLIL lessons in comparison with normal EFL lessons. Besides other things she found out that some teachers did not really understand the core principle of CLIL, some of them simply translated the words quite a lot and then the interaction was not developing as we would wish. Another problem is that though CLIL is a good means for developing the thinking skills of students, some teachers do not dare to apply this goal into their CLIL teaching. It really is very necessary to be able to use various techniques developing the higher order thinking skills (e.g. according to Bloom’s taxonomy), not just ask the simplest questions: Who? When? Where? but to go deeper into finding the reason, into guessing, classification, analysing, evaluation, projecting. And the last but not least difficulty I see is that the level of English competence of some teachers (especially their interaction skills) is still not high enough, many teachers are just learning how to use English themselves. I think it will still take some time to overcome this residual from the political past. But of course, their diligence and their willingness are the hope in this process.

SCET: Tell us about your experience in the USA. Where and what did you study? What did you like about the US educational system and what did you dislike? What have you learned to do differently in your work as a result of your stay?

DH: Oh, this is a complex question. Being a child of the communist era, I did not have any chances to apply for my studies abroad during my younger age. But I got a privilege to spent two times 7 weeks in the Wheaton, Illinois and Holland, Michigan, USA working on some research topics, not researching ESL or EFL but specific areas of educational sciences – and I was happy I was given those chances to do it in English language. Besides some tiny bits of experiences with the lower age schools, I got acquainted primarily with the university system. I realized that the level of choice and scope of alternatives between schools founded by various founders and their quality etc. is really incomparable to the Slovak situation in education. I like the higher autonomy of universities. What I really learnt and what I would like to apply into our system much more is the different ratio between the amount of factual knowledge and the amount of academic skills, especially argumentation skills. I think e.g. essays-writing can develop thinking competence of students much more than still-surviving memorization and encyclopaedism that is still remaining in Slovak school system. And this is what I am trying to apply into my classes and lessons: encourage young learners and also university students to think more, to learn to argument, to analyze, to try to give an objective feedback to issues and to become reflective and self-reflective learners.

SCET: In 2006 – 2008, you led a European project developing preparation of teachers for teaching English to young learners. Can you tell us more about it and what was the ultimate outcome of the project? What did your work involve and what did you like the most about it?

DH: The aim of that project was to facilitate the development of English and ICT competence of primary school teachers. Usually the primary teachers are so busy with all of the subjects they have to teach that they hardly can find time to develop in other areas, especially languages and ICT – areas which are such a high demand from the side of the children and their parents.

Our project attendants got a chance to attend several sets of specific workshops and lessons with a very fine English teacher, guiding them on the way towards acquiring not only the basic four communication skills in English but also toward acquiring academic study skills (writing, reading, giving presentations) and intercultural competence. In the end of the two-years long project, the students got a chance to sit an exam and they were awarded two international certificates – in English and ICT. I believe these courses opened for them a way to become more competent teachers and find a better place in the current market place. What I personally liked in the project was that through it I gained very precious contacts, friendships, higher quality relationships with the students. I think it was tremendous to see the students so growing both in English and ITC competence.

Dana Hanesová studied teaching English as a foreign language both at the Comenius University in Bratislava and at the University of Matej Bel in Banská Bystrica, where she has been a teacher trainer since 1993 and now also serves as an associate professor. In 2010 she also became involved in teaching English at the primary level. Her main research interest is ELT methodology, including CLIL, with various age groups of learners. Dana has written 5 books and about 100 studies, some focused on shifts from ‘teaching facts’ to ‘teaching to think’. She loves to compare various subject methodologies and to apply her findings in teaching primary English.

FRIDAY 16:30-17:30 in SYDNEY


Author: Vicky Loras

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher born in Toronto, Canada. I have been teaching since 1997. For ten years, my sisters and I owned an English School in Greece, The Loras English Academy, but I have now moved to Switzerland with my eldest sister, where we have opened a new school, The Loras Network. I believe in teaching as an ongoing learning process, both for the benefit of the students and the teacher. One of my primary educational interests is celebrating diversity in education and languages.

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