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What a tangled web we should weave:
Teaching English, promoting critical awareness and using art in EFL classes
by Alexandre Dias Pinto
& Carlota Miranda Dias Pinto
- 1

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the role of EFL classes in the education of young people and to suggest a methodological path that can be productive and effective in learning English as a Foreign Language. According to the aims of this subject of the Portuguese school system (and, for that matter, of other school systems), EFL students are expected to learn English as well as to find in these classes the conditions and the stimuli that will allow them to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the English-speaking world and to develop their personality. We believe that an adequate approach, supported by motivating, culturally rich materials, will enable students to acquire cultural, historical and social knowledge, to develop their critical awareness and to reflect on issues of the contemporary world and of their day-to-day life. In order to achieve these objectives, the methodology followed hinges on the use of appealing literary texts and works of art integrated in the interactive strategies of the task-based learning (Nunan, 1989; Skehan, 1996). Despite the fact that several authors advocate the use of art and literature in EFL classes, our approach selects the development of the students' critical awareness along with learning English as its two main aims. An example of a unit plan about parent-child relationship will also be presented so as to illustrate the ideas and guidelines stated in the first part.

I. Introduction

As it once happened with alchemists, teachers dream that they can combine different ingredients - motivation, personality development, didactic and language contents (language skills, grammar, culture, etc.) - in their classes and come up with a complex chemical compound that, by the end of the lesson, would turn into gold. Teachers are not real alchemists, alas! But the risk they run of playing the role of Victor Frankenstein (another pseudo-alchemist) and of turning their students into insensitive, brainless creatures is not as far away as teachers would like to think.

We fear that the main role of school - contributing to the education of young people and helping them to become constructive, enlightened members of society - is being underestimated by several EFL teachers. Therefore, after revising the main pedagogical and didactic principles and the general aims of the English as Foreign Language syllabus of the Portuguese school system, we will present a methodological path that can motivate students - so experience tells us -, putting them into contact with facts and issues of our world (past and present) and making them reflect (critically) upon these issues in order to expand their knowledge and develop their critical awareness. Several activities and practical suggestions will be put forward.

II. Pedagogical and Didactic Principles

The task of the EFL teacher is to promote the conditions and to promote the circumstances that will enable students to learn the English language; in other words, the main objective of EFL classes is to teach English to foreign students and this priority must never be underestimated. Nevertheless, because EFL teachers are integrated in a national school system (in this case, the Portuguese school system), they have to follow the guidelines and the educational policies defined by the Ministry of Education. Consequently, they are expected to contribute to the holistic education of their students. Along with parents, teachers play a crucial role in building up the values and the personality of a teenager as well as his concept of citizenship.

This means that, apart from helping students to develop their language skills in English (reading, listening, speaking and writing), EFL teachers should take advantage of this golden opportunity, which is learning a foreign language and contacting with different cultures - not only the British and the North-American, but also the Irish, the Australian and other African, Asian and American cultures that find expression in the English language -, in order to allow students to explore and reflect on different aspects and problems of their day-to-day lives and of the world in general and to make them think (critically) about these facts and issues. School has been regarded as a place where young people acquire different skills and a wide range of information on different matters and fields of knowledge; in other words, it has been seen as the institution that teaches adolescents what they need in order to find a suitable profession or trade when the time comes. However, more and more, parents, teachers, pedagogues and even politicians realize that the education of young citizens - i.e., the building of a creative, responsible, constructive, open-minded individual - is, at least, as important as teaching them facts and abilities. In one sentence, we believe that teaching English and contributing to the education of the students are two objectives that should walk hand in hand in EFL classes.

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