Fabiana Da Silva
Role: High School Preparation Course Coordinator
EF campus: New York
Started at EF Academy: January 2011
What spurred the creation of the Preparation Course? In the beginning, EF Academy had 100-200 students, including some who didn’t really have a very high level of English but who were nonetheless interested in joining the IB or IGCSE program. The administrators at the time realized the necessity for a program that would enable these students to enhance their English language skills. I was invited to teach some intermediate and advanced classes. I started teaching vocabulary classes and we saw how beneficial it was for these students to improve their vocabulary before starting content-area classes. I also taught TOEFL classes in the High School Preparation Course. Students were excited to have this opportunity to improve their English skills while also learning test-taking strategies for an exam that is extremely important to a non-native English speaker.
What responsibilities do you have as the coordinator of the Preparation Course? The Prep Course is my baby, my passion. I think it’s so amazing to see how students come here with a low level of English ability, and then progress to the point of earning a diploma that will benefit them in the future. I too am an ESL student, having learned English in my native Brazil. I had a dream that I pursued, and was able to reach. I always tell my students that if they have a dream they really believe in and fight hard for, they too can reach it. They see me as an example of someone who came from another country and was able to study really hard, earn a degree, then a Master’s Degree, and is now teaching others to do the same. I think it’s good for students to have a role model who can make them feel that they can do it as well. My background allows me to identify with and understand my students’ struggles in a way that is beneficial for them.
Can you describe your TESOL Master's Degree? When I first arrived at EF Academy, I was interested in exploring the opportunities available in my field. I saw the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program and I thought it would be perfect for me, and I was able to complete the degree in two years. When I began teaching, I was very happy that I would be putting into practice all the strategies I had learned in my TESOL Master’s Degree program. It’s so important for a teacher to be able to incorporate strategies that keep students engaged in learning the content of a course without getting overwhelmed because of the challenges of doing so in a second language.
What are some of the teaching strategies you use? There are many effective strategies that I believe are essential to teaching in the ESL classroom. “TPR” – “total physical response” is one of them. If you’re teaching an English language learner, you have to ensure that your class is not boring. So, if I’m teaching about body parts, I encourage my students to stand up. I ask them, “Do you remember what cheeks are? Where is your nose?” Instead of only writing, they actually get involved in movements they find exciting. Learning English, or simply improving it, has to be an exciting task. It would be boring for students to sit still and write about unfamiliar topics from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I also like that the students have the opportunity to be independent learners and take responsibility for their learning. It’s another thing I like about being a teacher in the Prep Course: I can highlight something that is from the students’ culture and use it to practice English skills. When students give presentations in English about their culture, it is great for teachers as well because it offers us an opportunity to learn more about our students’ cultures. These students are very excited to talk because they have so much knowledge on this topic and so many examples to share with everyone. Moreover, they realize that their culture is valued and respected, and that they are the ones responsible for the group’s new knowledge.
In what ways do you support students academically? I believe that we, as teachers, must help students develop not only socially, but also academically. We can best accomplish this by teaching our students skills and strategies that will serve them in their future IGCSE or IB courses. For example, effective study skills. This includes developing good note-taking habits, building a stronger academic vocabulary, and implementing good time management habits.I also strongly believe it is important to help English language learners become more confident; some may feel afraid of making mistakes or are a bit intimidated because of their accents. It is great to see that by working in small groups where they can receive one-on-one attention, they begin to believe in themselves and to strive to reach the next level or class.
What developments do you see in your students as the year progresses? It’s amazing! We not only prepare students to use proper grammatical structures, but in our Prep Course we also ensure they have the content-area knowledge as well. The students are really immersed in the language and also receive preparation in the content areas that will come the following year. It’s great to hear from them that they feel with this Prep Course they’re going to be stronger students when they go on to their regular studies.The students enrolled in the Preparation Course also learn geography, science and math in addition to English.
What is the reasoning behind this? We decided to integrate geography, science and math into the Prep Course because we feel that it’s so important for students to understand that next year – in the IGCSE or IB program – they’re going to have not only English classes, but content-based classes as well. We want to make sure that the academic foundation is already built. Once they go to the IGCSE or the IB history or geography classes, I want them to feel confident. The second part of the year is a little more challenging for them because they start using the same materials that the IGCSE and IB classes use. In the first semester, we build English skills and as the year progresses they become more familiar with the content and assessments that will be taught the following school year. Students feel that the Prep Course really helps them do well academically because they are exposed to the material beforehand.What have you learned from working with your students?I have learned a lot about my students’ cultures. When they get a chance to teach me about where they come from, they feel important. Giving them the opportunity to teach me makes them feel comfortable and in the end, everybody learns at the same time. I think the best thing I’ve learned at EF Academy has been the beauty of each culture; it’s so rewarding to have people from all parts of the world in my classes. When I allow my students to teach me something new, I am allowing them to be engaged in their educational setting and they gain a deeper sense of belonging.
What advice would you have for parents who are thinking of enrolling their children in our Preparation Course? Prep Course students have to be open-minded and willing to study hard to improve their language skills. It’s important that they have a passion and a desire to improve. They should be ready to learn English and have fun at the same time. They should also be ready to explore the world – that’s one unique opportunity they have in the Prep Course. They’ll be able to learn about other cultures, improve language skills and prepare for our academic programs. My advice would be to use time wisely and be committed to learning and to perfecting their English.Some of our parents are hesitant to send their students to the Preparation Course because they don't want them to fall behind in school.
What would you say to them? They should realize that their child is committing one year to English preparation so that they can gain four wonderful, successful years. It’s one year that the student is here improving their English skills so that they can do extremely well in 9th grade. A student who doesn’t have the required language skills to be in the IGCSE or IB program, but goes straight into these programs will struggle with basic tasks such as homework assignments or even with understanding a teacher’s explanation to the class. Students come here with the goal of succeeding academically, so I think that sending them into a program for which they are not prepared, is setting them up for failure. Basically, the Prep Course will help them do well in 9th and 10th grade, and even beyond. Students who come here to study not only become familiar with Thornwood and New York, but they gain confidence in English as well. They aren’t afraid of stepping out in front of a class with people from all over the world and giving a speech or reading a passage out loud because these are activities they are exposed to during their one-year Prep Course. Even the student with very strong math skills, but who is unable to understand what a math problem is asking, is going to fail – that doesn’t happen with our students because they are able to practice their math skills along with their English skills.