THE INITIATIVE PROMOTER’S PERSPECTIVE
The information for the Case Study was collected during an interview with Paola Reggio and Anna Piermattei, English teachers at the High Middle Schools “G.Petrassi” and “Alfieri” of Rome and authors/creators of the HandMade English project.
The background of the HandMade English project is based on the difficulties Italian students usually meet studying English language (verbal tenses). To overcome those criticalities, the project developed two books and a web site. The first book focuses on the use of the tenses, the second one contains the necessary elements to keep a basic conversation. On the web site, there are different sections. One of them (Homework) allows students to make their own interactive exercises at home. Another section (Classwork) allows teachers to create their virtual classrooms, giving a code to each student in order to check their linguistic performances.
The project target groups are: students at secondary school (age 10 to 13), pre-intermediate students at primary school, students with difficulties at high school.
The project target languages are English and Italian.
The HandMade English project has the objective to make learning the English language easier. Thanks to the books, students learn sooner than using any other traditional text. Thanks to the website, students practice the language at home and speak earlier than elsewise. In the HandMade English method, tenses are taken off the books and put on the hands of the students. This way, grammar becomes like a game and students immediately understand the tenses related to each topic of study. Moreover some tutorial videos, uploaded on the portal, help students to create their own sentences with the use of the hands.
Originally, the HandMade English project was conceived to focus on students with serious problems in learning English language. The project aimed at regaining their motivation and improving their English performances. Once applied, the project revealed its usefulness among the best students, who can use it to boost their knowledge and their motivation.
Concrete results comprehend the publication of two books and the realization of a web site. From a didactic point of view:
- more than 40% of the students following the project passed the A2 Cambridge English examination with positive marks;
- from 2007 to 2009, there has been an evident improvement of the English performances among students attending the project’s courses;
- students attending the course feel more confident in starting a conversation in English.
Anna Piermattei and Paola Reggio, the HandMade English promoters, decided to submit the application for the European Language Label with the aim to give a European context to the project and to guarantee a better sustainability.
The HandMade English promoters initial expectations were only partially met. The project gained further visibility thanks to its presentation in the framework of an important national event (i.e. the Language Label award ceremony that was held in Rome on 24 September 2010). On the contrary, in relation to the sustainability of the project, after winning the Label, promoters did not receive any other communication by the Label responsibles and did not realize any further contact with other Label winners.
First of all the project promoters put the Label on the project portal and on all the documents related to the Handmade English initiative. It was also put on a letter of presentation which was sent to one thousand of teachers in different Italian Regions (Lazio, Toscana, Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte) with the attempt to convince them using this innovative method. In addition, after the award, the promoters looked for economic support from private and public institutions and got a first one by “Fondazione Telecom Italia”. The resources were partially used to cover the expenses to publish the books and to improve the portal.
The European Language Label had a “motivating effect” on the project, because the promoters decided to push it on in other languages and realities. The project was originally developed in Italian and translated in English. Its transferability makes it useful in other languages because each language has its own difficulties which can be overcome by using the “hands’ method”. For this reason, the Label has motivated Paola Reggio and Anna Piermattei to keep on working hard on the project.
In order to develop a quality project in the field of Language learning, Paola Reggio and Anna Piermattei, the project promoters, advise to take all the necessary time before presenting a European project because details make the difference to define its success or its failure. In addition, they suggest the executives of the Label, to better spread Label in the European context: the ELL deserves a greater promotion in order to make language experts aware of its existence.Furthermore, according to the project promoters ,the National Agencies should improve the communication and the relations among the winning initiatives.
The Label is a “quality recognition”: the best way to exploit it is not just using it on the official letters and documents but developing national and transnational partnerships and networking among the initiatives that were awarded the Label and schools.
THE NELLIP NETWORK’S PERSPECTIVE
The NELLIP Network selected the Handmade English project because it is consistent with the political priorities of the European Commission in the field of language learning. Specifically, the Handmade English project has been chosen because it contributes to the enhancement of quality of language teaching as it promotes an innovative method which overcomes the typical difficulties students usually face in the language learning process. Also, the project promotes ICT based and Total Physical Approach to language teaching and learning.
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