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Enhancing Communicative Skills through Art and Technology

The Professional Development for English Teachers of 21st Century Learners: Enhancing Communicative Skills through Art and Technology Project was sponsored by a grant from the Puerto Rico Higher Education Council, No Child Left Behind, Title II Funds (NCLB – 15-01). We are immensely grateful for this support, which recognizes the responsibility of the University of Puerto Rico to provide teachers with professional development activities as a tool to improve the teaching and learning process for all learners in schools.

The 20th century introduced dramatic changes to society that have considerably altered the way almost everything is done. Most of these are related to science and computer technology and they have forever altered our lifestyle and the way we live, work, and play. These changes have also affected the skills needed to function in our modern world. Educational systems are designed to serve society’s needs and should be altered and adjusted in tandem with the changes that society imposes upon them. The omnipresence of scientific and technological advances requires that schools adapt their curriculum to the trends and new sets of skills that are appropriate for 21st century life. Learners in this century have also changed and their needs are different from those traditional schools that are designed to meet those needs.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), an organization that was founded in 2002 as a coalition bringing together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers in order to start a national conversation on the importance of 21st century skills, states in their publication entitled P21 Framework Definitions (2009) that they advocate the “integration of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication into the teaching of core academic subjects such as English, reading and language arts, world languages, the arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history, government and civics” (p. 9). However, beyond any changes made to standards and guidelines that can be enacted by school boards and administrators, teachers must be conscious of these changes because they are the ones that are closest to the students.

These developments and globalization require the use of English as a lingua franca in these processes. Crystal (2003) states that “a language achieves genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country” (p. 3). In fact, Crystal believes English has done precisely that since

English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language – in over 100 countries, such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt, and Brazil – and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools, often displacing another language in the process. In 1996, for example, English replaced French as the chief foreign language in schools in Algeria, a former French colony (p. 5).

Learning English within these parameters is no longer a choice; it is a requirement. Preparing English teachers that are cognizant of these events and that recognize and accept the need to change is essential.

The purpose of this Project is to offer a professional training program to teachers of English that will enable them to understand and serve the needs of modern society and the 21st century children they serve. Innovative strategies that can enhance the English language learner’s communicative competence will kindle their interest in language education and promote student learning. This training responds to the needs of both public and private schools of the Bayamón Region and will allow these teachers to update their knowledge regarding the latest developments in language teaching and learning as identified by recent research.

The Product: The Teachers’ Manual

The Manual is composed of two sections. The reader will find the articles prepared by the faculty who gave the workshops, and the reflections and lesson plans prepared by the participating teachers. This culminating effort has the purpose to make public the Project’s achievements through a long and arduous journey, but in the long run a very satisfying and productive one for participating teachers, their students, their families, and their schools. The experience has enriched all of our lives, with new knowledge, dispositions, and skills that promise our schools a better future.

There is nothing that makes us more proud than presenting the articles, reflections and lesson plans produced by the faculty and the participants. The Project has been a teaching and learning experience from which we all can absorb its benefits and value. It has also been an opportunity to provide the time to renovate the teachers’ commitment to the profession, to explore and experiment with the use of technology and the arts in the teaching of English as a second language. Lastly, the Project may be seen as a ray of hope that wishes that this effort will make small changes that will impact the classroom environment in order to instill in our students the desire to learn. In words of one of the participants,

“We may not be able to change the educational system as a whole. However, with the changes we make in our own classrooms, we can guarantee that these children learn, and more importantly, fall in love with learning” (Alexandra Conde, participating teacher).

Annette López de Méndez, Ed. D.
Project Director