When I run online training courses for new volunteers (as I’m about to do again today) I always try to emphasise that what we do in the Hands Up Project isn’t really teaching.
It’s not teaching for two reasons..
Firstly, because the young people who we work with online in Palestine and Jordan already have English teachers in the room with them, and these teachers don’t need people like us to try to do their jobs for them.
In fact these teachers are in a much better position to teach English than we are as remote volunteers; they know the curriculum inside out (what’s in the coursebook, what may come up in the exam, what the learners have already explored and where they might be trying to get to), they know the first language of the learners very well (which means they can more accurately predict the level of challenge of linguistic input and can more easily use translation as a teaching tool) and, perhaps most importantly, they know the learners very well (their needs, their strengths, their personalities, their learning preferences etc).
Secondly, an online session probably isn’t the best format for the teaching of language anyway; it’s often hard for us to hear each other comfortably so models of language get lost somehow and need to be reinforced again by the classroom teacher.
This is not to say of course that there isn’t learning happening and that what we are doing in the Hands Up Project isn’t useful. In fact, from the feedback we’ve had from teachers and learners in Palestine who’ve done sessions with us, it seems that for many people these online connections in HUP are some of the most powerful learning experiences they’ve ever had.
Here’s what one of our most experienced volunteers, a classroom teacher in Gaza, Amal Mukhairez, said about it.
“I think these sessions open up a new world of learning English. A world where students are not burdened with linguistic rules and exams which is, I believe, the key to getting more excited and effectively involved in the process of learning. The most interesting part about these online meetings is that students are introduced to the language more authentically and much more smoothly.”
And Hands Up Project sessions can also be a rich source of learning for the classroom teachers and remote volunteers themselves. Another long standing volunteer with us in Gaza – Sahar Salha, presented about this at last year’s Hands Up Project conference and at the IATEFL conference in Liverpool. Here’s what she wrote in her article for IATEFL Conference Selections (due to be published very soon)
“Being an English teacher can be a very lonely job, especially in a place like Gaza. We don’t have many opportunities for teacher development sessions and sometimes we have no idea about what other teachers are doing in their classes. It has been a real privilege for me to see another teacher from a completely different context, suggesting, explaining and implementing activities to do with my own learners here in Gaza. Sometimes I then try these activities out in my other face to face classes and they work really well. Maybe one of the most important things is that it’s made me realise the potential of my own students to use English naturally and communicatively with people outside of Gaza. So, I think I have higher expectations of them now and that is a very good thing”
Sahar feels that the online link ups have also helped with her own language development…
“Doing these sessions has also helped me with my own English. Until I came to the IATEFL conference in Liverpool, I had never been outside of Palestine and I’ve had very few opportunities in my life to interact in English with anyone who isn’t Palestinian. I can feel that my own English level has improved a lot by having this chance to communicate regularly with Alex”
And the feeling of learning is something that may happen to both the classroom teacher and the remote volunteer…
“Alex has also told me how she feels she has developed as a teacher through working with me. She always tells me that I have a great way of working with the girls, pushing them to do their best and managing things so that everyone feels involved. This is not easy in a class of 45 students with very few resources and where many of the learners are suffering from trauma. But this is one thing that we teachers in Gaza have learnt how to do to, and it feels good to be able to pass on these skills to Alex”
So over to you now….
Remote volunteers, Palestine based volunteers, students..What have you learnt by doing sessions with the Hands Up Project? Please write something in the comments below.