In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use storytelling to set up creative projects, set up reading programmes, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.
We would like to share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make great learning projects. When they share their techniques and experiences, we realise that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar questions and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.
This month we talk to Cristina Toledano, a language teacher from Santo André, Brazil. Cristina's work has long inspired us, and we have shared some of her Alice in Wonderland Tea Party pictures in the post Themed Book Club Party Ideas. In this interview she shares more creative ideas, tips and titles that have worked for her.
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How did you become a language teacher?
I like to say that this job has chosen me rather than me choosing it. I started teaching at the age of 10 helping my 4th grade teacher with her evening classes in a community project for illiterate adults. At the age of 13, I started studying English and I decided that I'd make a living out of it and here I am, still. Completely in love with it. It's been 31 years now.
HRB: What do you like most about teaching?
Cristina: I've always had this thing for teaching, whatever it is. I basically like creating bounds and sharing. Being able to take part in someone's education process is what seduces me the most. Language classes, in particular, are a synthesis of all subjects, since, from basic to advanced levels, you get to discuss all sorts of themes and lead them guide students into critical thinking. What's more, in this language area, you teach all age groups, you help people with all their different needs and desires.
HRB: How did you start using literature in your language classes?
In the past, say it, thirty years ago, when I started teaching, coursebooks did not privilege reading as much as they do now, since they had a more grammatical approach. Thankfully, things have changed and nowadays we always have literary extracts in our course books, which we can use as the basis of our language teaching but also to encourage both teachers and students to get to know and read the book as a whole.
HRB: Would you share some classic titles which have worked well in your teaching?
Definitely. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 101 Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet by William Shakespeare, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll among others.
HRB: Have you any suggestions for using literature in the classroom?
Last year, in particular, I devoted my teaching to bringing literature back into our classrooms here at our project. It was a big challenge, though. These days, with the Internet and all it offers for both studying and entertaining, getting students to read classics is not an easy task. However, it's up to a good teacher to adapt to a new generation of students, a new generation of readers.
As a teacher who works with teenagers, I MUST be aware of what they like doing, their interests. Yes, they like reading, but not the old, boring ways of reading and handing in reviews. Observing what's going on around them has helped me a lot. Literature has never been more out of the books than now. You see it on big screens, on TV series, so proposing a good reading activity is easier these days.
We've done reading aloud activities here and the students are growing to appreciate them. When we do collaborative work, they fight for a role in the reading, they like acting the lines. Last year we celebrated Shakespeare and they read and interpreted Romeo and Juliet. Now I see my students carrying classics with beautiful covers and they feel proud to own them. Revisiting classics with a different approach is the way to conquer new readers.
There's nothing like hearing a twelve-year-old student saying “Teacher, hurry, let´s go to the classroom, I've got to know what happened to Oliver, poor thing, he was in trouble last chapter”. We were reading Oliver Twist!
For example, I convinced my students to read The Brothers Grimm last year by working with the TV series Once Upon a Time in the classroom. My advice for the fellow teachers around the world is that on no account should they give up working with classics in their classes.
HRB: Many thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with our readers, Cristina!