Ciencias de la Educación

4 de mayo de 2019

Promoting Respect through Teaching English Based on Critical Pedagogy Criteria in a Two-Month Experiential Immersion Bilingual Program

Jeffer Darío Álvarez Forero

First, I would like to inquire about the following question: How would you try to encourage students to respect each other in a-two-month immersion English program with 160 children from six different public schools and varied ages? All of them are in third grade, and they are between seven and twelve years old. Some of them have a common characteristic: they are aggressive, not only in terms of hitting one another, but also through nicknaming, and cursing. The challenge lies on the short time span we, teachers have, and the idea of teaching English within a friendly class atmosphere. In this article, I will introduce the program, that has been created to help students learn English and to get along with each other, with the cooperation of Zuly Díaz and myself, Jeffer Álvarez, (two current students from the English Didactics Emphasis) in an intent to put into practice what they have learnt through the seminars on Research, Educación para la paz, and Comunicación y educación at Universidad Externado de Colombia and our contribution to Friendly Town through our research studies and teaching practices.

Origin of Friendly Town. Friendly Town is an experiential English program created in 2014 in Cajicá, Cundinamarca. The former principal of Newman School, Augusto Franco Arbeláez, wanted to contribute to Cajicá town by creating a space where children from public schools had the opportunity to learn English through an immersion program. He talked to the Mayoral Service of Cajicá and its Secretary of Education, and presented them his idea in which Newman School would hire the teachers, obtain materials for students, and with the cooperation of the Mayor they would supply the space and the transportation service to fulfill one of the goals of the development plan of Cajicá. On April 8th, 2014, they signed an agreement to start the CIBEC (Centro de Integración Bilingüe in Cajicá). Mr. Franco decided to contact Trudy Ruiz de Martínez, the former principal of Gimnasio Femenino, to lead this initiative. In the second semester, Ms. Ruiz and a group of four teachers started designing the program and came up with the idea of giving it a different name. Finally, CIBEC changed into Friendly Town (FT).

In January 2015, the group of teachers increased. They served the 6 public schools as ‘in-house-teachers’ and FT started with 60 students. The program was a success, and then, in 2016, FT was given a place at Politécnico Sabana Centro to cover the entire population of third grade. The number of teachers increased again as the number of students reached almost three times bigger than in 2015. FT was divided into 7 groups, with students from the 6 public schools, and it became a non-formal intensive immersion English program which aimed to impact not only the children enrolled in it, but also their schools and families. When having students from different schools, age, and cultural background being together, conflict arises as it is inherent to the human being.

What FT has done to help students learn English and get along among themselves. FT has adopted the experiential learning model as one of its foundations, in which English has a functional perspective. According to Tudor (2001), it is necessary for language teachers “to develop an approach to teaching whose goal was to enable students to use the language in one or more defined socially defined contexts” (p. 57). He also asserted that “the goals of language teaching are defined by what the learner has to do in the language” (p. 65). FT English teachers created a syllabus and a lesson plan especially designed for their population, based on their previous experiences, which considered Tudor’s point of view, as he stated that “course content is selected in order to enable students to operate effectively in the relevant situations of use” (p. 57). Therefore, FT teachers designed a program in which children were able to speak English in a meaningful way for them, and based on the topics selected for a relevant use. Nevertheless, FT has gone through many changes in the syllabus design, due to the constant alternation of students: every academic term (two months) the program receives around 160 new kids. As a result, FT English teachers have modified and adjusted their planning quite often.

To help children get along among themselves, FT administration and teachers started by stating five big rules (nowadays they are 7) to frame the whole process, and a set of procedures to tell students what they could or could not do, and the consequences they would face. FT teachers have always tried to help students respect each other, accept their differences and speak up when things go wrong, but aggression keeps increasing. Thence, some students were excluded from the program, and schools were informed about the chance to return when they were ready to accept and respect the rules. As a matter of fact, some children attended FT three times until they were able to understand the importance of being nice and respectful. Ms. Ruiz and her teachers felt successful for this huge accomplishment as they witnessed those children’s evolution.

Putting into practice some Master’s in Education seminars. This program offers diverse seminars, but I will make emphasis on three of them as they have been the ones that gave us a plethora of ideas to contribute to FT students. They are Research, English Didactics (Materials Development and Critical Pedagogies), Educación para la Paz, and Comunicación y Educación. In the Master’s program, throughout the ten sessions taken in the seminar on English Didactics professor Astrid Núñez Pardo encouraged us to create contextualized non-authentic materials (also known as teacher-made materials) from a more social and political perspective to meet student’s contextual realities. Howard & Major (2004) pointed out that commercial materials are “not aimed at any specific group of learners or any particular cultural or educational context (p. 101). In Núñez-Pardo’s words (2018), “This decontextualisation implies that the EFL textbooks misrepresent the plurality of both local and target cultures” (p. 1). Likewise, Howard & Major (2004) purported that “materials should also be contextualized to topics and themes that provide meaningful, purposeful uses for the target language (p. 105). Along similar lines, Montijano (2014) considered non-authentic materials as “undeniably the best materials that students may enjoy: personalized, as they cater for different learning styles, and relevant, because they respond to the learners’ needs as no other material can do” (p. 281). Thus, I designed a context-bound module focused on the songs I composed and adapted for vocabulary learning, in which students were expected to identify new vocabulary related to food, animals, likes and dislikes, lifestyles, hobbies and jobs, to sing with good pronunciation, intonation and volume, and to recognize the correct form and use of those new words. Zuly Díaz created a teacher-designed E-learning platform and flipped stories to increase motivation and composition writing in which students were shown some dilemmas related to their personal, social, school, and family conflicts. Her idea was that students may be able to make their best decisions by guiding them into autonomy.

Another aspect addressed in the seminar on English Didactics is Critical Pedagogy (CP), which has different names as critical work, participatory approach, emancipatory literacy, critical education, pedagogies of resistance, liberatory teaching, radical pedagogy, post-modern pedagogy, border pedagogy, and pedagogies of possibility. From the plethora of authors that have studied CP, we chose three. To begin with, Freire (1970/1995) stressed that it was necessary to talk about CP by recognizing that human beings and learners exist in a cultural context, “which mark them and which they also mark” (p. 90). In the same breath, Kanpol (1999) defined CP as “a cultural-political tool that takes seriously the notion of human differences, particularly as these differences relate to race, class, and gender [and encouraged teachers] to change the structures of schools that allow inequalities and social injustices” (p. 27). Along similar lines, Kincheloe (2008) pointed out that CP “is never static as it is always evolving, changing in light of both new theoretical insights and new problems and social circumstances (p. 27). He also declared that “love is the basis of an education that seeks justice, equality, and genius” (2008). Finally, he stated that CP “believes that nothing is impossible when we work in solidarity and with love, respect, and justice as our guiding lights” (p. 9). These three scholars have influenced our teaching practices at FT and became the pillars for our proposals.

Throughout the six sessions taken in the seminar of Educación para la Paz, we have learnt how important it is for teachers to avoid violent practices in schools, which start from too much scolding, staring madly at children, replying them angrily and speaking with sarcasm. Professor Gina Caicedo has also expressed that it is necessary to see conflict as inherent to the human beings and how schools should bring down its negative connotation. For Núñez (n.d.), conflicts are needed (a) for creating arrangements based on values, interests, differences, needs…; and (b) to promote social change in which it becomes a function that supports the cohesion and functioning of societies that will help communities evolve as conflict is a human construction. In one of her classes, we studied the RAICE (Ruta de Atención Integral para la Convivencia Escolar), which gave us the idea of proposing a code of conduct in FT. We learned that it is necessary to pay special attention and to follow up occasional aggressions to prevent them from becoming type II situations, (bullying, aggressions that harm another person’s body or health, homophobic harassment, sexist attitudes, non-consented physical contact and cyberbullying), so the environment may be better for our students.

Additionally, professor Daniel Valencia has stated that teachers have the power to touch the most vital aspect of people’s lives: their mind. He stressed that we need to go beyond teaching our specialties and make students reflect on interaction, difference, and sharing so students may be able to recognize and internalize the rules to be better citizens, through autonomy, empathy, and solidarity. He also claimed that mass media have taught humanity to be afraid of and to hate others as a response to difference. Instead, our proposal for FT is based on trust and love.

Current proposal for the promotion of values to foster students’ autonomy. In a discussion with Ms. Ruiz and FT teachers, we decided to follow the guidelines given in the RAICE and established a five-step code of conduct: (a) verbal call of attention; (b) written call of attention; (c) call parents to a meeting in FT ; (d) awareness session at students’ school with their psychologist; and (e) when the student has undergone all the previous steps, he/she is expelled from the program for the ongoing term, with the possibility of returning in the future. This process was not easy because as it has been previously mentioned, FT is a non-formal program, but we considered this intervention pertinent to protect the mistreated children. Although this process is true, we wanted to give FT a very different approach in which stimuli would be the basis, not the punitive aspect as it has been stated from the beginning. FT will revolve around three axes: self-regulation, sociability, and interest. They entail values such as respect, treating each other well, autonomy, leadership, motivation, and responsibility.

As a result, in April 2019, students were presented and explained this series of stimuli: (a) To go up in the positive reinforcement chart. This is a poster that portrays a mountain divided into seven sections. There, students have the possibility of climbing when they are following the value of the week. (b) To raise the flag on Mondays for accomplishing the seven levels of the mountain. A boy and a girl from each group will be chosen by their homeroom teacher. (c) To wear a captain bracelet during that week so they are visible for the whole community. (d) Their names will appear at the entrance of their classroom on an honor chart. We also proposed to change the use of whistles after recess and lunchtime. We are now playing classical music to make their return to their classroom more relaxing, taking advantage of the properties this musical genre has.

The impact of two research studies on FT. In the first research study, I composed and adapted songs for FT students. They were from different musical genres, considering the topics of FT, children’s needs, and their reality as citizens of Cajicá. One of the first things I did was to compose a song to help them learn the rules of FT. So far, I have composed and adapted 14 songs to teach them not only English, but also to value their identity, differences, and attitudes, among others. They are complemented with the context-bound module I designed, which bears in mind six second language acquisition principles, an integration of the four communicative skills, a cross curricular cut with vocabulary related to Science and Social Studies and a songbook with the lyrics of the songs.

Teacher Zuly Díaz is currently piloting a teacher-designed E-learning platform and flipped stories as she realized FT students loved going to the computer room. Accordingly, to increase motivation and to help them improve their composition, she created an interactive E-learning platform based on some dilemmas related to students’ personal, social, school, and family conflicts. She integrated the four language communicative skills, followed 6 SLA principles, and showed vocabulary taught in FT. Teacher Zuly wants her children to discern when situations arise and to have autonomy as a foundation.

In synthesis, teaching goes beyond entering a classroom and explaining topics to our students. The basis should be to guarantee an appropriate environment, revolving around values as respect, treating each other well; loving, trusting, and giving children enough opportunities to perceive conflict as an excuse to dialogue and propose a two-way solution. Besides, it is relevant to try to put what we learned from our studies and our teaching experience and what our colleagues have also proposed into practice. Finally, our positive attitudes have helped us to accomplish our goals, despite the short time span, with large classes of varied aged students.



Freire, P. (1997, 2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, USA: Continuum. (Original work published 1970)

Howard, J. & Major, J. (2004). Guidelines for designing effective English language teaching materials. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from

Kanpol, B. (1999). Critical pedagogy. An introduction. (2nd Ed.). Westport, CT.: Bergin & Garvey.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2008). Knowledge and critical pedagogy. Montreal, Canada: Springer Science + Business Media B.V.

Ministerio de Educación Nacional [MEN]. (2013). Guía pedagógica Ruta de atención integral para la convivencia escolar. Retrieved on March 22nd, 2019 from No.%2049.pdf. pp. 67 – 130.

Montijano, M. (2014). Textbook use training in EFL teacher education. Retrieved November 7, 2017 from

Núñez-Pardo, A. (2018). Critical interculturality to disrupt coloniality in the English textbook. Revista Virtual Cuestiones Educativas, septiembre (1-9). Bogotá: Universidad Externado de Colombia.

Núñez, J. (n. d.). Hacia una comprensión de las dinámicas de conflictividad en diversos contextos sociales.

Tudor, I. (2001). The dynamics of the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.