Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alphabet, Spelling and Young Learners

Being able to spell in English belongs to the ELT basics category. Kids and adults alike learn the English alphabet with the help of the many alphabet songs, practise spelling their names and that’s usually all. They are expected to remember how to spell as it’s considred to be easy. Besides there are so many other important and interesting things to focus on.

I’ve been teaching 1st graders for 7 years now and admittedly, I have never paid much attention to spelling. 

My 1st graders have 8 hours of English every week – 4 with me, 4 with my Turkish colleague. My partner teacher uses a coursebook with the students; my job is to supplement and provide opportunities for extra practice.  That leaves us plenty of time for some fun.

Together with my American colleague, who teaches 1C (I teach 1A and B), we decided to spend 1 class a week focusing on a letter of the alphabet (starting with A). It’s been a few months now and this week, for example, we will be talking about the letter N.

Every time a new letter is introduced, the children learn a few words beginning with it. They also complete tasks to distinguish the new letter and practise using it. These include lettersearches where they have to circle e.g. all Bs, giving students pictures and asking which letter things shown in them start with, tracing, races to the board (each team member has to write / touch or circle a letter the teacher says) and so on.

We had a few reservations before conducting our experiment:
  •  our students were learning the Turkish alphabet at the same time (not starting with A though) so we were scared they might somehow confuse both alphabets. It does happen but very rarely.
  • they learn how to write in cursive whereas most of the books for kids and the handouts we had were written using the so called ‘the ball and the stick’Students should be familiar with both styles. They sometimes call writing in cursive writing in Turkish and ‘the ball and the stick’ – writing in English. We observed no problems with students being unable to use both styles. 
  • we thought it might be too hard and too boring for the students and we were wrong. Spelling is very challenging and my students can’t wait until we learn new letters.

Our main aim was to teach the English alphabet, giving the children an opportunity to pick up some new words, practice reading and writing.

Yet what has been taking place exceeded my expectations. One day, having reached letter H, I decided to give it a try and asked the students to write down a few words I was spelling. The words were DAD, BED, CAT. To my surprise, the students had no major problems with this activity. The following week I showed the kids some new words and asked them to spell these for me. They raised their hands immediately and spelled everything they were supposed to. That was a WOW.

So here we are – spending 40 min a week with 6-7 year olds exposing them to a new letter and a few words beginning with it. After a few months, most students spell a lot better than the students in High School.

Don’t you think it’s an achievement? I do J

Monday, February 22, 2010

Corrective feedback

I’m currently preparing for an ELT conference in Vienna where I’m going to talk about error correction and feedback. To cut a long story short - I need your help to prove that what I’m planning to say is not sheer theory. 

Here are some basic, immediate ways of correcting students’ utterances. You may or may not like them but the truth is we all use them, from time to time and sometimes automatically, during out classes.

My request is for you to spend a few minutes and let me know which technique(s) you use most often to correct your students. Are there some you never use? Can you think of other ways that I, in my ignorance, haven’t mentioned?

I’ll be extremely grateful for your replies J

  1. Explicit Correction – Teacher provides the correct form and clearly indicates that what the student had said was wrong.
S ‘Yesterday I go to the cinema’
T ‘Yesterday I went to the cinema’. went is the past form of go. If you talk about yesterday you have to use went not go.

  1. Recasts – Teacher reformulates all or part of the student’s utterance.
S1 ‘Are you agree with me?’
T ‘Do you agree with me?’
S2 ‘Yes, I agree.

  1. Clarification requests – indicate to students that what they said has been misunderstood by the teacher or that the utterance is incorrect in some way. Repetition or reformulation is required from the student and the teacher may use phrases such as: ‘Pardon?’ ‘Excuse me?’
T. ‘What did you do yesterday?’
S ‘I play football’
T ‘Excuse me?’
S ‘I played football’

  1. Metalinguistic feedback – contains comments and information about the student’s utterance without providing the correct form. Metalinguistic comments indicate that there is an error somewhere but they are also an attempt to elicit the information from the student. Teacher may use grammatical terminology or a word definition.
S. She like bananas.
T. What’s the ending of the 3rd person singular when we use Present Simple?

  1. Repetition - Teacher repeats student’s erroneous utterance typically by adjusting the intonation to highlight the error. 
S. I watch TV in Monday.
T. IN Monday? (rising intonation)

Please, don’t be a lurker and drop me a line :) If you have more time you can also mention the level and age of your students. 

Thanks a million!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why I like teaching kids

Many EFL teachers say that they hate teaching children. Some even dread entering the classroom as they are scared the monsters will sooner or later overtake and create chaos impossible to control.

Although there surely are disadvantages of teaching Young Learners, I want to focus on all the good points today. So here we go, teaching children is fun because:

·        They are honest and always tell u the truth, no matter how harsh it can be (Teacher, my grandma has the same scarf as you. Teacher you smell funny. Teacher…)
·        They find it very difficult to keep a secret and as a result you may have the opportunity to learn a lot about their parents (My dad NEVER brushes his teeth in the morning.)
·        They are largely unpredictable and you never know what they are up to
·        They are not afraid of making mistakes and try speaking TL as much as they can
·        You never know how the lesson with YLs will end. Somebody crying, somebody climbing up the walls, somebody looking for something in the garbage…
·        They are extremely observant (Teacher - today you are wearing green eye shadow. Why?)
·        Kids are curious of the world and eager to learn. My students, for example, love to learn where certain animals come from (So koalas come from Australia??? Not Africa???)
·        They are fascinated with facts about the world and love sharing their knowledge with the teacher (Did you know that ‘fire brigade’ begins with ‘f’? No! Really?)
·        Kids would be the best journalists as they are not scared to ask any questions (Are you pregnant? How much do you earn?)
·        They are easy to convince (If you are naughty, you’re gonna get a terrible stomach ache! Ok, I don’t say that but feel tempted very often.)
·        They like sharing their secrets with you so you end up knowing who has a crush on who and that one of your students got a message from Hanna Montana on Facebook. Wow!
·        They easily make you laugh. Most of the time.
·        They give you a daily portion of exercise and help you keep fit – if you teach YLs, count how much of the classroom time you can actually spend sitting down!

I'd love to hear some nice stories from you as well :)            
See, even writing about kids makes me smile :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why I hate teaching kids

I really enjoy teaching Young Learners. They are funny, open for new ideas, full of energy and usually more motivated than their older friends. Largely unpredictable, kids can always surprise you which adds this interesting flavour to your teaching.

Yet there is one thing that I hate about teaching children – their parents.

  • During parents’ meeting, only the mommies and daddies of well behaved students are willing to meet you. The naughty kids’ parents never pay you a visit even if they are asked to do so.

  • Some of them are obsessed with their children’s progress. You have to constantly ensure them that their kids are doing fine, otherwise –

  • they demand extra classes, supplementary worksheets, more effort on your part because you – the teacher - are the one to blame.

  • They rarely want to take responsibility for their child’s behaviour. If little Xyz curses in class or hits his friends, it is definitely your fault.

  • They question your qualifications. If a child fails a test, you didn’t teach him/her right. Where did you learn how to teach then, hmm?

  • If a child is one of the best in class, they keep coming and asking how he/she is doing just to hear more praise every time.

  • They love visiting you unexpectedly during your 5/10 min or lunch breaks. They always promise they’ll take just a minute of your precious time. Right.

  • They call you any time they wish to ask about their child’s homework for the next day or test results (and why they are so low).

I’m done. Feeling better now having let it all out.

Have you had any other pleasant encounters with parents?

How should we deal with them?

I’m not a parent myself and would really appreciate if one wrote something here from a different perspective than mine. Might be interesting :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Music is the soul of language

When I was a kid my parents kept the radio on even at night. Even this day I can see this old Dorota in front of my eyes. It was a wedding gift they got from my uncle. During communism such gift was a treat of great value. And they did make use of it.

Music has always been around although I have never been able to play any musical instruments or sing. I got used to having it around and music became a part of my life

Although it may sound the opposite, this post isn’t about how much I like it. 

It’s about how useful and beneficial listening to music may be in the ELT classroom.

You see, back at school I was always better at English than other kids. We all had the same start in grade 6 but I somehow knew more. Never had serious problems with pronunciation and grammar... Well, some sentences simply sounded either good or bad.

I took me some time to figure out why I succeeded in learning English whereas some of my friends did not. I’m sure you already know what I’m hinting at – it was all because of the music.

On the Polish radio (and that’s my guess) around 10% of music played is in Polish and the rest is in English. That’s a generalization, of course, but most commercial stations arrange it this way. Hence, subconsciously, I was exposed to the English language most of the time. I didn’t focus on form or meaning. I used to hum songs to myself just because I liked how they sounded.

Some three years ago I decided to give it a try and started using background music in my classes. The results were not miraculous – eventually a few hours of listening to music in English was not enough to expect some radical changes.

  • To begin with, I managed to get a pretty good rapport with my teenage students as I let them bring music of their own and asked what they liked. All the hip-hop or whatever it was turned out to be slightly tiring but they thought I was cool. Fair enough.
  • It also became easier to get the students’ attention. When the music was suddenly turned off or simply faded away, they knew that it was time for something new and were instantly ready for it.
  • Students appeared to be calmer when exposed to soft music in the background. When I wanted them to discuss important issues I chose, for instance, Dido or Sting. They were more involved in the conversation and listened to each other more carefully. On the other hand, when I played lively and energetic songs, the students were having more energy and fun but the class was a lot louder.
  • They seemed to enjoy taking part in activities lot more and with greater enthusiasm when their favorite music was played
  • My 2nd graders really liked ‘Accidentally in love’ (aka the 'Shrek song') and asked for it all the time. A few weeks after I started using background music my colleague asked them to prepare mini dialogues between two animals. She had a lot of fun but couldn’t understand how the kids learned all the phrases they used. The dialogue one of the pairs created went something like this:

‘Hello! What’s your name?’
‘Hello! My name is horse Debbie!
‘How are you?’
‘I’m fine, thanks, and you?
‘I’m fine. What’s the problem baby?’
‘Dog Jake is speaking Turkish and swinging on the chair!’*
‘Ok, bye bye.’
‘See you later’

Silly as it looks, if you know the song I mentioned, you should realize that ‘What’s the problem baby’ was a phrase they picked up just by listening and enjoying the music I brought to the classroom. To me, the dialogues my kids created were amazing and I couldn’t have felt more proud!

My little experiment also proved that children can be exposed to any kind of music even if it’s music for adults where they sing faster and use more complicated vocabulary.

Now here is the conclusion.

I’m not claiming that my success in learning English should be attributed solely to the radio I listened to as a kid. I’m also not saying that background music will magically transform your students into fluent English speakers. It may help though so why not use it?

Has anyone of you tried?

*Obviously the ‘speaking Turkish’, ‘swinging on the chair’ and other phrases from the mini dialogues were what the students picked up from their teachers ;)

Thanks Mike for the inspiration! J

That's more or less what our old radio looked like btw :) 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some secrets revealed

Whenever I think about the big names of ELT or fellow bloggers, the only thing that comes to my mind is what they have achieved being teachers, teacher trainers or authors. There are very few things you can learn about a person behind an ELT bestseller or an amazing blog for teachers unless you’re actually friends with them. 

Obviously, in certain cases, it’s a conscious choice. Some people simply don’t want others to invade their privacy and we all have to respect that.

But I’m curious. Yeah, I know what killed the cat but can’t help it.

What are you into APART FROM teaching? What can’t you live without? What’s this something about you that not many people know?

Guess I have to come out first, so here we go:
  • I love traveling. The best gift for me is a guidebook focusing on a place I haven’t visited yet.
  • I buy tons of books and then have no time to read them.
  • I’m into films of all sorts and Pedro Almodovar is my all time favourite.
  • My childhood heroine was Anne Shirley and I dream of flying to PEI one day.
  • I’m a true fan of Harry Potter. Surely because he's an only child like me.
  • Three years ago I was working on the musical Cats with my students. Since then I’ve been a huge fan of musicals and face painting.
  • I have a collection of necklaces and had to buy special hangers to keep them.
  • I love shopping. I get crazy when I see the words SALES, DISCOUNT or SPECIAL PRICES.
  • I’ve lived by the sea all my life. Maybe that’s why my favourite sport is trekking in the mountains.
  • I always have fruit and vodka in my refrigerator. Fruit for myself, vodka for guests.
  • I definitely kiss better than I cook. Actually, I probably do everything better than that.
Why was I called l_missbossy? If you attend the Pecha Kucha night at the ISTEK conference in March, you might get a chance to find out. If not, you might try guessing now

Can't wait to hear from you!