Recently, the results of the Chilean National English test was reported. My school, Colegio Internacional SEK – Chile (Las Condes), ranked number 20. That is to say, only 19 schools in the entire nation of Chile had better results on the 2012 National English Test. The results of the previous test, 2010 Chilean National English test, we ranked number 32.
Obviously, as the Coordinator of the English Department for the past three years, I am pleased with the results. My English Department advanced 12 places from 2010-2012. What is more noteworthy is that our advancement brought us into the Top Twenty schools in Chile. What is even more noteworthy is the fact that only 2 points separate our school from the school ranked Number One, the Grange School.
What that means is that the teaching and learning of English at Colegio SEK International School, Las Condes, is of the highest quality that the nation of Chile has to offer. At Colegio SEK International School we are obviously doing something right.
This brings me to my main point. Despite the fact that 87% of Teachers of English in Chile Meet or Exceed Mineduc Standards, a total of 29,000 students from 500 public schools were unable to obtain a single result at or above the level of A2 (Basic Superior).
Whether on television or in the press, the consensus of the experts seems to be to lay the fault for this failure at the feet of the teachers. It’s the teacher’s fault, the critics say. Most arguments can be summed up as follows: If teachers had a higher level of English, the students would have a higher level of English.
Obviously, the argument sounds good, but it makes the false assumption that the teacher’s ability to speak English is the only factor to consider. It isn’t, never has been, and never will be. As I explain here, if knowing English were the only thing to consider, then we could solve the Chilean English problem by hiring an army of native speakers.
Many nations, notably Japan and Korea, have already tried this solution, and the results have not been massively successful to the extent that the investment required would be worth the results they have had with this approach, hiring native speakers.
Now, yes, I know that I am a native speaker of English. I am the Coordinator of the English Department at Colegio SEK International School. My school is now ranked Number 20 in the nation. So, hiring native speakers is the way to go. Native speakers of English are the solution for Chile, right?
Wrong, and here’s why. I humbly ask you:
How many native speakers have written sixty (60) books? I have written 60 books, available in 95 formats on Amazon. Yes, you can actually buy my books.
How many native speakers of English do you know who has ever written just one book? All teachers write a thesis, that gets approved by a handfull of people (sometimes fewer than 5 people). Sometimes the thesis is written with a group of students ranging from two to five students. In contrast to that, my books and articles get approved by people who pay their hard-earned money. It’s a tremendous, real-world, reality-based difference.
How many native speakers have published major articles in major English Language Teaching journals and magazines? I have published major articles in English Language Teaching journals and magazines.
How many native speakers have completed a Diploma in English Language Teaching Methodology (DELTA) course? I have completed a DELTA course.
How many native speakers have been President of the Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Chile? I am the current Past-President of TESOL Chile.
How many native speakers of English do you know who are Regional Representatives (Ambassadors / Liaison members) of the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association? I am the Regional Ambassador / Liaison for the country of Chile.
How many native speakers of English are members of the School Innovation Community (Comunidad de Innovacion Escolar)? I am a member of the nationwide School Innovation Community, jointly sponsored by Educacion2020 and FundacionTelefonica.
How many native speakers have co-founded and co-organised FREE professional development EdCamps for teachers? I have co-founded and co-organized FREE professional development EdCamps for teachers from all subject areas in Chile. EdCamp Chile is amazing, and you should attend EdCamp Chile 2014. It is FREE, for ALL teachers, by teachers…
I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here because it is clear what point I’m making.
There are very few, if any exist, who have the dedication to the English Language Teaching profession that I do. I say that humbly, sincerely and proudly. I love being a Teacher of English, I really do. It is my true passion, the teaching profession, and I’m very dedicated to the proposition that we can always become better tomorrow than we are today. We make this a reality if we always continue to develop ourselves, without waiting for, or asking for, any rewards.
The best reward, the ultimate reward, for professional development will always be the look in a mother’s eye when she says,
“Thank You, for being my child’s teacher.”
As a teacher, we affect eternity, every day, from this day to the end of days. I truly believe that.
Now, again, most humbly, I say, “There are very few native speakers of English who are as technically, tactically, strategically, pedagogically, and linguistically competent as I am.
I love what I do as a Teacher of English, and that love, it absolutely drives me to know as much as I possibly can, to continually develop myself personally and professionally.
However, what native speakers do know, and know well, is English. What they don’t know is culture and pedagogy, not as it applies to the Chilean context.
Over the past twelve years (12 years) I have learned Chilean language and culture by living in Chile, adopting Chile as my own country.
And yes, I have learned pedagogy, through self-study, and more importantly, through daily contact with the students who depend on me to make pedagogically sound decisions. I’m much better at language, culture and pedagogy now, a million times better at this aspect of teaching and learning English than I was 12 years ago.
And the Chilean teacher of English? What a Chilean teacher of English has a tremendous amount of knowledge, skill and ability about is pedagogy. Further,test results show that 87% of Chilean teachers tested by Mineduc also are linguistically competent to do the job Mineduc has defined. Consequently, we must ask, why are the results so poor?
The answer to that question is not bad teachers. Chile has great, outstanding teachers of English. I know, becauseI’ve met them, all around the country, from Arica to Punta Arenas.
I repeat, Teachers of English in Chile are not only good teachers, but also highly competent in culture, language and pedagogy. That is independent of where they studied, whether at Universidad de Chile, Universidad Catolica, or Universidad del Mar, it is irrelevant when 87% of the teachers tested by Mineduc are culturally, pedagogically and linguistically competent. I am serious.
On the Edcamp Chile 2013 organising committee, I worked closely with three teachers from Universidad del Mar recently. They were highly competent, dedicated, motivated, and instrumental in the success of Edcamp Chile. I wrote personal letters of recommendation for these teachers and offer my personal testimony to their high quality as professionals. They were volunteers, received no pay, worked long hours (for free), dedicated, had a love for the profession, and had high expectations for themselves. Without their professionalism, dedication and volunteer spirit, EdCamp Chile would not have been as successful as it was.
Again, I ask: Why are the results so poor, if teachers of English are so highly qualified, so highly dedicated, so highly professional?
To answer that complex question, in any kind of serious, honest approach, it requires us, as a whole, to turn the spotlight on the 41 schools that achieved excellent results, and study them closely.
I for one, am absolutely convinced, that we are misinterpreting, misreading, and failing to understand our own experience in Chile.
Historically, Chileans have been teaching and learning languages for over 200 years, dating all the way back to the very founding of the republics first schools.
Let me repeat: We know how languages, and in particular English, is best taught, and learned, in Chile. It’s not a secret, it’s not rocket science. To be clear, for example, at my school, we know the secret.
I will whisper the secret softly and gently to anyone who now wishes to hear me: “High Expectations“. Dedication. Love.
Let me give you an example of high expectations in action. After the SIMCE English Test in 2010, my school had results of 93% passing. It wasn’t good enough, not for me, not for my department, not for our students. 93% meant that we had failed with 7% of our students.
So, in the English Department, first, I set a personal goal of achieving a 100% pass rate. This high level of success is what I personally felt I owed to the students and their parents.
Once I convinced myself that it was my obligation to deliver a 100% success rate, I shared this conviction with the entire team in my English Department. They enthusiastically supported the notion that we could do better, and were willing to work harder than ever before.
Next, I shared this conviction with the school leadership team. This was a crucial step, because we went “public”. We had announced to everyone that we would do our best to achieve 100% success. We would leave no student behind. The English Department now had created an environment of High Expectations and given ourselves “no place to hide” in the event we were unsuccessful.
As the department leader, I studied very closely the 2010 SIMCE test results, so closely in fact, that I discovered some incredible facts about the 2010 test results. Later, I wrote two books about what I found out, to share this knowledge with teachers worldwide. The books were written a year apart. As I revisited the topic, I ensured that I was acting on a profound, evidence-based, thorough analysis that had withstood the changes of the past year.
All the teachers of the team of the English Department did everything I asked them to do, though they were realistic with me about whether or not we would actually achieve our goal of a 100% pass rate. I thought this was fair. All you can do is your best, make your best effort, and after that, it’s out of your hands.
To be frank, we encountered some challenges. However, our work was focused on one goal: every student will be successful. On test day, there would be absolute certainty that we had done everything we could for every single student. We left no stone unturned, no possibility had been unexplored.
The rest is history now.
Colegio Internacional SEK Chile advanced 12 places, from Number 32 in Chile in 2010, to Number 20 in Chile in 2012. Only 2 points separated us from being Number 1 in Chile. Two points of separation means that you can send your child to any school in the Top Twenty, and they will be guaranteed to learn English as a Foreign Language well.
The pass rate was 100%. We achieved our goal.
Now you know.
- Teachers are not the problem in Chile.
- Accreditation is not the problem in Chile.
Our students in Chile, from all schools,can learn English. We have learned English, French, German, Italian, Swahili, etc. for the past 200 years in Chile.
The secret is High Expectations and Dedication and Love.
Whereever you find teachers who love what they do, you will find successful learners of English.
Whereever you find teachers of English who have dedication, who are dedicated to their own professional development, you will find successful learners of English.
Whereever you find teachers of English who have High Expectations, for themselves and for their students, you will find successful learners of English.
Love, Dedication & High Expectations
For me, the greatest of these three characterisitics is Love. Where there is Love, there will always be successful teaching and learning of English, just like at my school, Colegio Internacional SEK Chile.
Conclusion: To learn English, it is not the money that matters. To learn English, it is not the teachers level of English that matters. To learn English, it is not what accreditation the university training programs have that matters.
What matters is Love, Dedication and High Expectations…
Publication Date: March 26, 2012
SIMCE Ingles 2010: The development of the national English test in Chile coincides with my story, which is woven autobiographically into the larger story, a test which apparently resulted in only 11% of students able to achieve a passing score. This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will reveal secrets to you that you thought you already knew about tests, test-making, and test-reporting. More importantly, you leave the reading of this book with a renewed sense of confidence in who you are, and what you do…
Chilean National English Test ReVisited [Paperback]
Publication Date: April 16, 2013
This book is a collection of my reflections, ReVisited, from the perspective of a practitioner, about the Chilean National English Test, known as SIMCE English.
These reflections add to what we know in the ELT profession about teaching English in an EFL context, in other words, a country where English is a foreign language, that is, not the first, or second language ordinarily spoken in a country.
I have spent my entire teaching career in Chile, and have been an observer of the development of the English Language Teaching (ELT) profession in Chile. This fact adds credibility to my qualitative observation in this book.
An important part of what ELT teachers do in Chile is prepare students for exams. One of the most important exams is the biannual SIMCE English, or National English Test. The last national exam was in 2012, the next is scheduled for 2014.
What I hope to achieve in this book is to provide greater clarity about the Chilean SIMCE English exam. I will look at two English Diagnostic Tests, one from 2004, the other from 2008, the SIMCE English test of 2010, and the recent SIMCE English test of 2012.
I believe this book fills a gap in the literature by providing a source of information about the history of ELT assessment in Chile (the past decade) and also by sharing practical considerations about how to prepare for a SIMCE English exam. Also, throughout the pages of this book, the reader will find actionable information about how to use the exam results to inform future teaching interventions that help students improve their learning outcomes.