MANILA, Philippines?Smiling, the second-grade teacher rested from a game that challenged her to fully use her English language skills.
Celema Lechonsito of the Manili Elementary School in Lutayan, Sultan Kudarat, traveled all the way to Mactan, Cebu, to join 132 other grade school teachers from Mindanao in a 12-day camp that promised to help them improve their English in time for the school opening in June.
The English Language Camp helped the teacher-campers practice their English language skills using educational games and other activities on persuasive speaking, interviewing, using idioms, reading and retelling stories, creating and enacting newscasts, hosting, debating, creative writing, role playing, conversation, and vocabulary building.
It also improved their oral, listening, reading, writing, teaching methodology, and computer skills using experiential and learner-centered approaches.
The camp was organized by the United States Peace Corps? Tudlo (Teach) Mindanao Program in cooperation with the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) Project of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
It has a strict ?stick to English? policy.
Sydney Merz is one of the 18 US Peace Corps Philippines volunteers who co-facilitate the camp along with graduates of past camps.
Said Josefa Gaspar, her co-facilitator and a teacher from Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay: ?In [this] camp, we want to make teachers at ease with the English language. This is all about confidence building. It is much easier to learn English with a native speaker [like Sydney] around, and this helps the campers become more conscious and at the same time confident of their language usage.
?But I am also here to help them, if they find it difficult to comprehend and express themselves in English.?
Speaking good English comes as a result of using the language in natural situations on top of formally learning it, according to Stephen Krashen?s theory of second language acquisition.
?In the real world, conversations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful,? says Krashen, a linguistics expert at the University of Southern California.
This is how the English Language Camp hopes to help.
It seeks to train teachers to speak good English by giving them opportunities for direct interaction and conversations with native English speakers. It also gives them ideas on how to teach the language more effectively, as well as supplementary tools such as the assorted English books that USAID?s EQuALLS2 Project distributed to the teachers and that they brought back to their classrooms.
With better English-speaking teachers and better English teaching methodologies and tools, it is hoped that the Filipino youth can learn the language better and more easily.
Learning it better is critical in a world where Filipinos have found a niche in global business process outsourcing and overseas jobs, and are discovering the need to hold on to their advantage as among the best English-speaking people in Asia.
?We make sure that the methods and tools we introduce [in the camp] are applicable to the needs of the teachers, which they can later use in their classrooms,? Sydney Merz said.
The camp?s interactive approach is especially critical in contextualizing lessons for classrooms in Mindanao.
Merz and Josefa Gaspar incorporate suggestions and feedback from the campers in their sessions, which they plan on a day-to-day basis.
?Attending the camp was very timely, as the school opening is here, and I?ve got fresh ideas for teaching my subjects, particularly English,? said Lechonsito.
?While I already use games when I teach my subjects, Sydney taught us new and fresh methods of teaching, which I think will encourage students to be more confident of their English,? she said.