In the last of his series of posts on teaching in Libya, Jon Naunton, co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series, discusses how his students progressed in reading and writing.
At some point in the process, we introduced cursive i.e. ‘joined up’ writing. This was largely to satisfy the pressure put on us by our students who considered words formed from individual letters rather infantile. Again, there were important considerations here as we had to demonstrate carefully how the preceding letter joined the one that followed. Letter ‘a’ for instance always joins up from the bottom, while letter ‘o’ joins up from the top. I remember how some ingenious students would print the word in separate letters and then add the lines to join them up!
You might wonder what else went on in these lessons. Only about a third was dedicated to the business of writing. The rest of the time was spent on beginner’s oral English. Of course this was made more difficult for students as they could not have a written record of what they had been taught.
Many teachers, myself included, allowed them to transliterate; that is, render in Arabic script an approximation of what they had heard in English. Fortunately for us, Arab learners of English are used to rote learning and have superb memories. Their oral English was well ahead of their reading and writing. Oral work previewed what would be read and written later, so teachers had to be extremely vigilant about their choice of structure and vocabulary and grade their language with care and precision. This discipline has stayed with me.
As the terms progressed we spent a lot of time exploiting graded readers and getting students reading aloud. I can hear the ‘tut tuts’ of some readers – ‘Reading aloud! How retrograde, whatever next?” But for us, it was an absolutely necessity that the students proved that they could see the correspondence between the printed letters on the page and how the words that they formed were actually said. We had a well-equipped library of graded readers that were used as class sets. They were too precious to lend out.
To return to the opening sentences of this series, teaching script and spelling to my Libyan learners is high up on the list of the most interesting and challenging things I have done in my teaching career. As a teacher I learned to have a great deal of respect for the efforts of my students, even if to most eyes they would appear ill-formed and juvenile. I realized that they were the result of a commitment and perseverance which few people, myself included, are capable of.
What have been some of your most interesting and challenging teaching moments? I’d love to hear them!