11/09/2017

THE WIN-WIN CLASSROOM


The win-win classroom is a classroom where both the teacher and the students are the winners.

One may wonder;
Isn’t every classroom a win-win classroom? Teachers are there to bring something new to their pupils, and the pupils learn something new. It’s a fool-proof win-win, isn’t it?

Well, I’ve read Jane Bluestein’s ‘The Win-Win Classroom’ book. Fascinating. Not everything is so black and white as I used to believe. There are so many shades of grey, all of them of paramount importance to children’s well-being in the long run.



And, even though I strongly believed I was doing in the best interest of my students, I sometimes wronged them.

How can this even be possible?

THE BREAKTHROUGH

To me, the first and the most important turn was the realisation that I allowed being run by others. I a way, I was a victim who couldn’t change classroom management because:

·         The school system was as it was. You could not change it.
·         There were teachers who were in school longer. They knew best and therefore, I had to follow their mind.
·         It was unheard of to say ‘no!’. Not to the headteacher, or parents, or older teachers. You simply did what you were told.

So, I conveyed the upper attitude into my classroom. And, whenever my lessons wouldn’t work, I knew who to blame. It was never my fault. My intentions were always good, but …

To my utter shock, I one day realised, my students copied exactly the same approach from me. It was never their fault, they were just following my orders.






Until one day, I said ‘NO MORE!’.







So, I changed my own attitude and believed to become a better role model for my students.  







IT’S ALL IN THE APPROACH


REACTIVITY  (MOTIVATION)


Traditional way: The students are punished for their unacceptable behaviour. I believe, they will change their ways in order to avoid punishment. (‘You are not playing, because you didn’t do your homework!’)

The win-win way: The students work because they want to earn privileges. (‘Of course you can play, right after you hand me your homework.’)
There’s a nice example of the win-win activity at Mateja’s blog HERE.


NEGATIVITY (MOTIVATION)

Traditional way: I correct mistakes and grade students according to the number of mistakes they have made.

The win win-way: I sum up the progress the students have made and grade it accordingly. 



PRODUCT OVER PROCESS (MOTIVATION)

Traditional way: What I want is the (correct) result. I focus on the outcome. I give example at school, but give students homework to learn it. (Bring me some cut-out pictures on animals and learn their names. Or, look at the pictures in a workbook, memorise their names at home.) We stay with the topic for a game or two, but I expect from children to learn the names of the animals at home. There are many topics covered within a school year.

The win-win way: I focus on the process of learning. Children do things themselves. We play games, where children are involved, and they learn the names of the animals through the game. We stay on the topic for several lessons, until children learn the names. We tend to have only a few projects within a school year in which we entwine different topics.

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING

Traditional way: I focus a lot on controlling students, expecting them to follow my way. I choose the exercises, games, rules, I never give students options, no power, and no control. (Students are seated, using exercise books, following orders, learning what’s written/being said, silence is required.)

The win-win way:  I focus on building positive emotional environment by focusing on socialisation first. Children often work on their own, find their own paths to solutions, are allowed making mistakes and having control over their learning process. (A lot of social-oriented tasks with ‘noisy’ periods, I am an organiser and students are learners.)




PROFESSIONALISM AND FLEXIBILITY

Traditional way: I follow the state-mandated curriculum as closely as possible, regardless of my students’ cognitive and emotional needs. (I teach the curriculum/ workbook.)

The win-win way: I use the state-mandated curriculum as a guideline. I tailor and adapt it according to my students’ cognitive and emotional needs. (I teach the children.)


MORE PRACTICAL, PLEASE!

More detailed about the practical approach … in my next posts.

  • Activities for creating a positive emotional environment 
  • What is a serious game and how to create one
  • How to be a successful organiser
  • Useful cooperative games for YL

27/08/2017

New School Year, New Arrangements


I enjoyed a very pleasant and relaxed summer. Hope you had a similar one, too.

Musical Veronika Deseniška, Celjski grad, August 2017


But now, new challenges have arisen on the horizon …

After having successfully completed fifteen workshops (Playing Games Is a Serious Business and Visual Grammar), the teachers’ comments and suggestions have piled up. Realising we cannot squeeze all of your wishes in a 3-day workshop, we have now rearranged our workshops. The complete open-didactic and project based approach can be covered in 70 hours, gathered in 9 days, spread over 15 months.

Workshop: Playing Games Is a Serious Business, OŠ Ljubečna, August 2017


THE BEGINNING: PLAYING GAMES IS A SERIOUS BUSINESS! (end of August, 3 days, 22 hours)

Reading starts with pictures ...

Listening comprehension ...
This workshop scaffolds a project approach through steps which address all language skills as well as social skills. The approach is child-centred, topic based and involves gamified activities, which can be adapted to different topics. The participants leave the workshop with a knowledge of the frame of a yearly programme, how to address language and social skills through steps, and how to organise a lesson in a way that everything is entwined.

Let's find some vocabulary ...


This basic workshop is carried out through a project AUTUMN and gives teachers the means for the first 25 lessons.








THE UPGRADE: SATURDAY MEETINGS (Four Saturday meetings, 8 hours each)


New ideas need time and practice to ‘sink in’. Therefore, Saturday meetings shed some extra light on the project approach.

Every meeting has different topics scaffolded in a project. Additionally, every meeting presents some issues teachers expressed they would like to know more about.

1st Saturday meeting (NOVEMBER) – Project WINTER, management in big classes and encouraging socialisation.

2nd Saturday meeting (FEBRUARY) – Project SPRING and literacy.

3rd Saturday meeting (APRIL) – Project SUMMER and listening comprehension.

4th Saturday meeting (MAY) – EVALUATING AND GRADING.

Listening and speaking ...

THE FOLLOW UP: VISUAL GRAMMAR (autumn holiday, 2 days, 18 hours)



Visual story ... (presented at Belta Day, Brussels, 2017)

The workshop presents the visual approach to addressing grammar, time concept, and tenses. Moreover, it shows how to address writing, reading, speaking and listening with students aged 9 and 10.


Visual grammar ...




ALSO, GOOD TO KNOW:

•    All of the above-mentioned workshops are carried out in English.
•    The number of participants is limited to 20. The sign-up is finished when the group is full, or 2 weeks prior to the workshop execution.
•    Signing up is required via web site: sign-up.
•    The fee needs to be paid before the workshop is due.
•    If your school uses C00lSch00l tool-sets, you have a discount.
•    More details about the workshops can be found on the C00lSch00l website.


Wish you an energetic and successful start of the new school year.


13/02/2017

Teacher to teacher observation - 'literacy and differentiation'

If you can recall, four of the teachers from three different schools decided to have teacher to teacher observations in the school-year 2016/2017. The details can be found in the post Teacher to teacher observation - the tryout.

And so it has started.


November's observation

The topic was 'literacy'. We observed different levels of how to teach 3rd graders to read.


Children worked in groups. The levels of the activities were stretched from focusing on the first sound of the word through playing with syllables, reading words, reading sentences, and lastly reading a dialogue.

The activities were brilliantly organised and judging by their involvement, children enjoyed them. However, I had mixed thoughts about what 'reading' actually means. Is focusing so much time on details (first sound, syllables ...) really the first step towards reading? 



Advocating the so called 'global approach', I believe supporting children's global thinking through context related activities should be the basis of their learning (the approach from a big picture to smaller bits of a puzzle within the same topic). 

Regarding reading, I believe children should have clear purpose of the reading. Is it only for the sake of reading? Is it, maybe, finding some information? Filling in the form? Enjoying the language/plot?


I am aware of (at least) one argument against it. Children cannot read, if they don't now how to read, or if they don't know the letters.

True. But I ask myself this:
Can learning letters, syllables, vocabulary ... be part of a context-based project? Like, learning the aforementioned through stories, descriptions, texts, poems, songs?


Having had enough time to contemplate on my thoughts, I decided to create a lesson, trying to incorporate literacy the way I advocate it, together with a challenge - differentiation among students. 

I invited my colleagues to observe the lesson, the 3rd graders.

February's observation

Pensive, I drafted thoughts prior to organising the lesson:
  • The context is 'At My School' - project that gives children the big picture and from which we take out some vocabulary.
  • All of the activities we did in this project so far were school-related, so the context should be clear to them.
  • The aim of the activities - describing the school, the classroom and the schoolbag.
  • The activities are the preparation for the reading.
  • The purpose of the activities for children is 'playing a game'. 
  • The follow up activity - reading a text. Hypothesis: Being familiar with the sentence formation, knowing the vocabulary and the use of the basic grammatical number in nouns, children should be able to find the information in a text easier.

The groups: There were three levels according to their level of experience. The levels were divided among five groups and some children working individually.

The most experienced level: practiced sentence formation. Discussing the pictures on a given topic, they needed to form a sentence starting with THERE IS  or THERE ARE, adding the WHAT and ending with WHERE.  
The game: Groups collected points for a correct description. 

Some examples of the sentences:



  • There are classrooms in my school.
  • There is a board in my classroom.
  • There is glue in my schoolbag.




VISUAL SUPPORT: We had a colour code displayed on the board. GREEN - plural, no article, -s at the end, RED - singular, an article and no -s at the end. 

The middle level: was practicing vocabulary and forming sentences up to the level they were capable of via playing 'Memory Game' (a pair was a picture with a word and a picture with no word - level 2), and 'The Black Witch' (Črni Peter), where the pair was a picture with a word and a word.

Some examples of the sentences:
  • There are scissors.
    Memory - level 4
  • There is a locker.
  • There are notebooks.
If, however, some of the children knew how to answer the WHERE question, they added it in the sentence.



The Black Witch, level 3


The struggling level: some of the children in this group are still finding hard to memorise the words, whereas some were struggling with singular/plural forms. 

For them, I have made a working sheet with pictures and one with the words. The objective was to find  the correct English word to the picture and mark the grammar number in our colour coding.

On the sheet with the words only, they needed to colour code the words in order to distinguish whether it was written in singular or in plural. The children also had an option to write a sentence, if they felt they were up to the job. There were examples written for them.

The presentation: At the end, every group presented their work by giving some descriptions, the rest of the class contributed.




While organising the lesson, focusing on differentiation, I was struggling most how to address the weaker children. 

The discussion: 
After the lesson the four of us teachers had a sit-down to discuss what was presented.

What I found most enlightening was the fact, that some questions from my colleagues, addressing my chosen activity for the 'weak group', opened a new perspective on my teaching approach. Up until now, I was positive that global approach, advocated and taught via my study on convergent pedagogy, works for every level of children's knowledge. After the discussion, a shadow of a doubt was cast upon my notion.

Additionally, my colleagues well observed that the weak-level's activity was not really a game. 

Furthermore, it was discussed how to monitor every pupil's contribution (to see if they have completed every sentence correctly, if their pronunciation was correct etc.)

MY CONCLUSIOS:

The global approach  works very well with the talented group as well as the middle level.


It works magnificently with the talented students, because it allows them to go as far as they can comprehend and does not limit them with (curriculum's) boundaries. 



Unfortunately, it does not address the weaker students the way it should. Contemplating on that, I returned back to what I had seen at the November's observation. I now believe, focusing more on syllable-practice activities with the weaker pupils could help them both with reading and memorising. 

This activity, however, can be rather boring for those who can already read

Differentiation, which of course undoubtedly leads to group work, is therefore essential.

Despite of the effort to prepare group activities in order for the children to practice in smaller groups, it is impossible for the teacher to monitor every pupil within the same lesson. Both teachers and pupils should be aware of that. That is why I believe is important to focus the first few schooling years' programme on developing social skills and teach children to take responsibility for their own learning. And that can be done via cooperative game-like activities, not only in a foreign language, but also (essential!) at other subjects.
  

CONCLUSION:

Teacher to teacher observation ... a big YES. I believe this is how one's profession improves. I cannot wait to share my experience at our next Saturday meeting. I might get even more challenging questions then.

My mind is now working on creating some group play-games on syllables for our 'school' topic, for the weaker pupils, ENTWINED IN A PROJECT AND CONTEXT RELATED, of course.





26/01/2017

What's the meaning of early language learning?

I received an e-mail from a parent. One of his/her children is in the 1st grade, the other in the 4th, both of whom learn English at school. 

His/her question was: 

"Is the aim of English language learning in the 1st grade learning songs by heart? My child has to memorise five songs (he/she listed the titles) and, according to his/her performance, he/she will be graded. The problem is, he/she doesn't understand half of the meaning of the songs and struggles with some words. It's not that I want to fight with the teacher. I just want to find a way how to deal with the situation. How to help my child?"










It had made me think and opened some questions:





What does 'knowing language' actually mean?

  • Knowing words?
  • Knowing chunks of words?
  • Knowing songs?
  • Knowing set of dialogues?
  • Knowing fixed sets of 'correct' answers to 'correct' questions?
  • Understanding what people around you are speaking/doing?
  • Responding to the communication addressed at you?
I believe, it is all the above. The thing is, when teaching young children, one needs to make priorities and start at the basics. 

Which is?


What is the purpose of early language learning?

Imagine a child, aged 5-7 at the playground in a company of its peers. (Or at home, for that matter). What are they doing? 






Well, the answer you've most probably come up with is the one that should be seriously considered to be taken into a classroom. 

Playing!

If you want a child to play in another language, they firstly need to employ social skills in order to successfully communicate with each other. 

In my belief, foreign language learning at the age of 5-7 should be nothing but playing social games, in which learning how to organise themselves (learning social skills) in order to successfully execute the activity, is a priority.

And in the course of such actions some words/chunks of words/songs are learnt.



That way, children find some purpose in language learning and at the same time have fun.


But, we have to grade  children! We have to follow the curriculum and ... different standards of knowledge are listed there ...

Opening the curriculum, page 6 (1st  garde) or page 7 (2nd and 3rd grade) and reading the general aims, is where I find the useful aims of early language learning.

Let's say the lesson covers the game 'What's your name?' (see the post 5-12-2015). The game is going to be played outdoors.

The lesson covers the general aims:

The GM (general aim) - Acclimatisation to language:

Children listen to/understand the instructions given in a targeted language, which are supported by the pictures/items, mime and demonstration. (For example: come to the door, form a line, go to the wardrobe, put on your (clothes), etc.)






The GM - Developing language skills
  • listening: in order to execute the orders correctly, children need to listen (hear!!) and understand what is said;

  • speaking: while dressing up, the children sing the song 'Put on Your Shoes'; when playing the game, they ask a question and answer it. All their speaking has a meaning and purpose to them;

  • reading and writing - are covered at another time.

The GM - Developing motivation
When playing games, specially outdoors, children are highly motivated and enjoy those lessons. This way they relate language learning with fun, purpose and joy. The very things needed for developing motivation.

How do I evaluate/grade?

Observe the children. Not all at once, but few at a time and mark their performance. The number of learnt words is not important. The most important thing is, that the child understands the activity in which he/she wraps some new words/chunks of words. Understanding can be seen verbally or non-verbally. 

Then, when you write a report, just formulate different levels according to what children know, how they show their understanding etc. and write it in a report. Each child corresponds to a certain level. 

But, the parents want to know ...

I believe that teachers' job is to teach children at school and not assist parents, so that they will teach their children. Teachers organise lessons, so that children can learn/practice at school. Parents need to follow children's work/achievements and support them at their work. 

What I usually do: I print out the lyrics of the songs, the instructions of the games, tell children to describe at home what they were doing ... 

... that's all. 

So, do I just ignore those specific aims and standards in the curriculum?

Read them again. They're all in the service of global aims, aren't they?

If the specific aim states 'A child sings, recites poems/songs in a foreign language' ... didn't they all sing happily when they were dressing up before leaving for the game outdoors?

The purpose of the language is in its use, not in enumerating memorised words/songs by heart. Isn't it?


Where's the catch?

There isn't one. All you need is self confidence, high level of professional knowledge (at both fields, the targeted language and didactics) and mature (positive) self-image. 


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