16/04/2018

STEP 3 - SOCIAL GAMES (learning language items)



It is the step which takes up most of the children's learning time. It is also a challenging step for the teacher if he/she wants to address the language beyond isolated vocabulary learning, turn it into a social event and find some use in it.

There is an abundance of language items that can be incorporated in gamified and cooperative activities. 

The terminology 'language items' refers to chunks of words that are used beyond 'isolated vocabulary memorisation' but preferably used in its function.

Traditional YFL teaching places almost all of the language focus on memorising isolated words. What usually happens is, that by the age of eight, children cumulate tons of words (on different topics) but are rarely able to use them functionally. In best case scenarios, children can reproduce fixed sentences (I can/ have got), which are used/practised for the sake of practice.

To be able to go beyond isolated vocabulary, we need to use the language in its function.

Here comes a tricky part; to be able to use the language in its function, we would need to use it in a natural environment. Sice we cannot go to, let's say New Zealand, to practice our English, we try to make it as close to the 'natural function' as it is possible in a classroom environment. One way to do it is a 'role play' activity, the other one is through 'projects'.

Since our young children's language knowledge is still inadequate to execute complex instructions and tasks, we need to find some middle way. The PBA approach brings language learning as close to the 'projects' as possible.

What makes social games any different from the games teachers are already using?


Social games are those games/activities which teachers are already familiar with and already have a wide variety of them in their store.

The paramount difference is the embedding of those activities. 

Whatever activity used, it is part of the learning process, of which the beginning is its origin (WHERE the activity is tailored from; its context, the story) and the end is its use (WHAT are we going to do with the learned language items). The entire PBA process gives children a context/connection (under the roof of the project (the covering theme), many topics are entwined together), because our brains are not designed to store information but to make connections.

In other words; social games themselves are not that special, and their learning outcome is not that specific if they are practised isolated from the entire PBA process.

That is why it is essential for the teacher to know what the 'big learning picture' is (the aims). More specifically, to understand what support (knowledge) a particular activity gives to be successfully used/embedded in the PBA.

With more topics entwined together, activities can get as close to 'real-life-situations-as-the-classroom-environment-allows', and a certain amount of language items can be used in their natural use.

I have been raking my brain to come up with the way how to convey social gams to you in such way that you could get the idea of what a context situation is. It is going to be a challenging job, but I will do my best to give you the big picture.

To understand the activities in all their complexity, I invite you to explore and try to understand:
  • children's point of view, its potential and their way of thinking;
  • the importance of being a confident and mature adult;
  • types of social games;
  • entwined topics.
Step by step, I will gradually address all of the above.

The point of view


Up to the age 12, children are unable to understand the concept of 'value'. They do not comprehend that knowing a foreign language will benefit them later in their life. Some children may actually say 'I learn it so that I will know how to communicate ...', but in truth, those are just repeated words from their parents' 'nagging'.

What children do understand is 'fun' and 'meaning'. 

Regarding fun, that is easy. Everyone can see if children are having fun.

The meaning ... well, children and the adults have slightly different opinion on that.  

Adults' 'translation' of meaning is usually 'value'; whereas children's is 'What do I do with it? How can I use it? What's the point? ... NOW!!!'

Here is, where games come in handy. To combine fun, value and meaning, we use serious games

I often bump into a wall with the teachers, who believe that games are not serious enough to be placed in a classroom. 

Well, that's adults' point of view. 

Perhaps some of them have already forgotten how much they have learned through games in their youth. According to developmental psychology, children learn through games. Unstructured games prevail up to the age six, and from the age seven/eight to twelve, the games with rules are more interesting for them (Marjanovič-Umek).

Since children's brains are not yet developed to the point to understand adults' way of thinking and providing we would like to teach them something, the only way is that adults address the matter (learning) from children's perspective. If not, they are obstructing children's learning.

So, those who understand that the only way children can learn is through games, and they gamify the learning process (curriculum), they take their job VERY SERIOUSLY.


If the adults persist on children following the adults' way (sit and listen, and write it down, and memorise), it ends up in children's memorisation and repetition without thinking and/or understanding. And the learned knowledge soon evaporates ...

Being able to bring children's point of view in a classroom means letting children have some control over their learning process. That, however, inevitably brings up occasional children's failure, searching for consensus, smoothing out their different opinions (socialisation) and conflicts. 

The teacher, on the one hand, needs to let go of her 'absolute control' (and give some of it to children), but on the other hand, needs to know how to address conflict situations to demonstrate children how to solve problems, cooperate, persist etc.

By going through conflict situations, raising up from the failure and learning to listen to the others, children are ACTIVE in their learning process, they EXPERIENCE the process and therefore LEARN. They are not bored by constant 'lecturing and nagging' and learning what they've been told to do.

To achieve the above, the teacher needs to be a confident and mature adult.


How to become a confident and mature adult? 


It's a million dollar question. 

The way it works for me is following the path to becoming my own master. This is what I do: 
Nothing of the above has a direct connection to teaching, but to WHO I AM. Because I believe that I TEACH WHAT I AM.


Types of social games


No1 - Learning the language items in 'role play' situations

These types of activities cover learning vocabulary in combination with sentence structures which are used in meaningful situations. Let's say if you are at the store (buying whatever), the frame for the activity should be:
  • How do you address (a person) when you enter the shop (many options!)?
  • What different situations you may encounter when buying/selling (many options!)?
  • How do you say goodbyes (many options!)?
  • The buying items vary and are only one part of all the language items presented, of which all language items have equal value and importance.
Children are given the loose frame, with many variations, and they explore different posibilities.

No2 - Learning the language items in their function

These type of activities are used in natural situations. 

Let's say we would like to each children clothes items. Instead of 'opening a theme' clothes and dictate all of the clothes items, colour the pictures and connecting words with the pictures, we only sing a song.

Every time, before you go out with children (through the entire school year), you gather them in the wardrobe. 

Children collect all the items of clothing they need to put on.

Then you sing:
  • what you are currently wearing first (I'm wearing);
  • what you're going to put on (Now put on my ...)
When you come back, you sing again:
  • Take off my ...
  • Hang up my ...
  • Place my shoes ...
Through the course of the year different items of clothing are addressed, the ones that are currently in use;
Different structures are used (I'm wearing, I put on, I hang up ...);
The process of dressing up has a function/meaning - children go out, they return, put their things back in their places ...

I have tailored the song to according to my needs based on the song Put on My Shoes.

In traditional teaching, one may 'finish' with the topic clothes within a couple of weeks and check out the learnt vocabulary (isolated from their use) and move on to the next topic. 

In PBA approach, what motivates children (has meaning) is going out. Items of clothing are only 'tools' they learn/memorise 'as they do it'. Because they make connections!

Which approach do you think has more permanent learning effect? 

No3 Cooperative structures

One of such is described in the post gamifying my classroom.


How to entwine the topics ...


I will address this once we've covered all of the steps.

Are you still with me?


As a treat to your baring with me, I'll give you the reading activity I recently came up with when I bought Usborne's Phonics Readers.  

I was genuinely thrilled seeing my eight-year-olds queueing for the books to read that I have decided to share the idea with you. 


READING WITH 7 to 8-YEAR-OLDS


The ingredients:

  • One book with rhymes which is focused on phonics
One original book. 


  • One pronunciation chart (homemade and mother-tongue colour-coded)
Home-made, laminated pronunciation chart.


  • One book for practice made from the original one
The letters are coloured the way they are pronounced.

How to execute the reading task:


  • Give a child the book for practice and the pronunciation chart.
  • Let the child take the book home for a week and read it on her/his own.
  • After a week, give a child the original book and ask him to read it to you. 
  • Ask him/her some question about the meaning of the text (global understanding as well as focused questions).
  • (give him/her a treat)

It works wonders with my school children.



If you want to be reminded of my next post, I suggest you sign up (see the top right 'follow by email', or put your email address on my list). This way you won't miss anything.

If you want to be introduced to my step by step approach in practice, you can sign up for my workshops

If you're not from Slovenia, there are other options:

  • workshops at different international conferences;
  • afternoon workshops at Pilgrims, the second week in July 2018;
  • I can come to you - for more information, contact me at info@c00lsch00l.eu.
  • If you believe the presentation of the PBA approach could benefit your teachers, I would be happy to hold a plenary at your conference ... just drop me a line.

10/03/2018

STEP 2 - DO IT YOURSELF

Through the introductory routine, we have prepared the children for the up-coming lesson: we greeted, activated their brains, practised focusing and socialised.

We have chosen the project name and chose the picture book which introduced the theme of the project as well as all the topics that can be covered under the roof of the project. We did that through storytelling.


So, what's next?


It's time we took some relevant vocabulary to work with on different topics. 

In traditional teaching, the vocabulary is usually pre-selected, and children only need to memorise it.

Have you ever considered to offer children to select the vocabulary by themselves? You haven't? 
You may think I'm crazy because children don't know enough English! Or, how can they know what's relevant?

Well, how about if we try it now?

With the right activity, children can select their own vocabulary, no matter their level of English knowledge. Through pictures, of course. 

I call it ...

Doodling


Children are given either a blank piece of paper or a black-and-white partly drawn picture, which is in some way connected to the theme of the picture book. That way we give children the context. Children are asked to finish their drawings themselves, individually. The way they like it.




The finished doodle is a selection of drawn objects children know, like, and/or are interested in. If you, as a teacher, would also like to introduce something that children have not drawn in the picture, and is relevant for the later steps, you may encourage them (via questions) to fill it in. 


A lot of revision of the already known vocabulary can be covered via doodling, as well as practising listening.

What else can we achieve through doodling?


Not only have we given children the control (autonomy) over their learning, because it was their choice what they wanted to draw (and in that we conveyed our trust in them), but we have also opened the first steps to literacy. Through the process of doodling, we addressed:
  • the pronunciation of the new vocabulary;
  • the connection between sounds and letters;
  • the awareness of the syllables;
  • the focus on spelling;
  • the introduction of articles and plural of nouns.

All that?! How?


While discussing the content of their drawings, children become familiar with the vocabulary.

"Can you find anything blue in your picture?"
(Children point to something blue)
"Do you know what it is?"
...

The connection between the sounds and the letters, the awareness of the syllables.

"Can you find a tree in the picture?"
(Children point to the tree)
"Can you recognise the first sound?"
(they say)
"How many claps for 'a tree'?"
(they clap the word)
"Can you find a picture of the tree in the Cool Alphabet House?
(they go and find it in the 'T' pocket)
...




Then we proceed to spelling and in that, we come upon plural of the nouns and articles.

Through doodling, we took the relevant vocabulary that we are going to use at our next steps and will make some new use of it. 


Of course, all will be written in my next posts.

If you want to be reminded of my next post, I suggest you sign up (see the top right 'follow by email', or put your email address on my list). This way you won't miss anything.

If you want to be introduced to my step by step approach in practice, you can sign up for my workshops

If you're not from Slovenia, there are other options:

  • workshops at different international conferences;
  • afternoon workshops at Pilgrims, the second week in July 2018;
  • I can come to you - for more information, contact me at info@c00lsch00l.eu.
  • If you believe the presentation of the PBA approach could benefit your teachers, I would be happy to hold a plenary at your conference ... just drop me a line.

The PBA, ELTA Serbia SIG Day, Joy of Teaching Young Learners, March 2018



Until then, you can read related themes:





14/02/2018

STEP 1 - STORYTELLING

In the 21st century teaching, STORYTELLING has become the teachers' No2 priority regardless of the students' age.

(No1 is gamifying). 





Whatever your life is, it is a story. A good one? A bad one? Well, you're the one creating it and therefore you're the one deciding about its plot, twists and endings. There are always the beginnings of different events that are building up to their climaxes and are slowly (or abruptly) resolving towards their resolutions.

In other words, stories are part of us, are natural to us. To make us feel better, we tailor our events to our happy endings or we find the villain to blame him/her for our misery. 

For educational or entertaining purposes, we invent stories of different genres.

To focus more specifically, the text below is focusing on YFLL classroom, where storytelling is specifically welcome. The reasons are many. I may not cover all of them but will definitely address some.  


THE PBA STAGE: Opening the project


The project always has a theme. Whatever your theme, there's bound to be a picture book that can be connected to the theme. 




The just question to ask yourself at this point (when introducing the theme to the young classroom) is, what background knowledge to the theme the children already have?

According to children's background knowledge, the picture book is chosen and the steps to storytelling are prepared. 

Naturally, there are different purposes of storytelling. Once you know what you want to achieve with it, there are some hints of how to approach storytelling. However, I hate to break it to you, but there is not one and the only fixed way how to do good storytelling. You simply have to make your own kilometres in practice, and slowly you'll get the feeling for it.

Bearing in mind that we're introducing the theme, the storytelling at this point has one specific goal: children need to get the gist of the plot.

Specifically, the teacher needs to be aware of:


INTRODUCTION: 
  • children need to be in 'the mood' and 'prepared' for listening; 
BODY:
  • storytelling is not story reading;
  • the words themselves are not important: children are 'reading' the illustrations, mood, body language and their own involvement;
  • the fluency of storytelling is of paramount importance;
CONCLUSION:
  • it is good if there can be an immediate use of the story.
All of the above mentioned should be entwined in one storytelling lesson. 

Some hints, maybe?


The best way to understand the storytelling is to see some step-by-step storytelling live. I invite you to join my workshops, where at least one story is told, involving all the points mentioned above. Seeing and trying it is far better than only reading about it.

Nevertheless, there are some hints:

Being in a mood and prepared for listening

Putting it down plainly, that means preparing children's ears to register different sounds. An activity in which children enjoy (play) and at the same time use their hearing to execute the activity is recommended. Listening discrimination is an excellent way of achieving this (and is described in the post Positive Emotional Environment




If a teacher can incorporate some of the features of the story she/he intends to tell, all the better. That is especially important if some information needs to be presented to children before storytelling because it doesn't exist in children's background knowledge but is important for understanding the plot.

Storytelling is not story reading

Every story presented to the children should be tailored in a way to make it interesting. In that, every storyteller should adapt their interpretation and thus make it more 'alive' and 'present'. So, a storyteller should not be ignorant of acting.



The words themselves are not important

When only introducing the theme (at the first storytelling) understanding all the words used in storytelling is truly not important. Children are reading the pictures, listening to the storyteller's voice, body language and actions, and create their own logical connections among everything they hear, see, do, and have some prior knowledge of the topic. The important thing is that they get the gist of the plot.




The fluency of storytelling is of paramount importance


A good storyteller knows the story by heart and into all details. Only then can she/he interpret the plot and adapt it according to the listeners' current mood. 

It is good if there can be an immediate use of the story

After the storytelling, a game, tailored from the story, should be played. 




The follow-up activities are chosen according to what further use of the story a teacher has in the programme. Speaking practice? Literacy? Listening? 

As I have already mentioned before, all will be put down in my next posts.

If you want to be reminded when it is posted, I suggest you sign up (see the top right 'follow by email', or put your email address on my list). This way you won't miss anything.

Until then, you can read related themes:


26/01/2018

THE STEPS OF THE PROJECT - INTRODUCTORY ROUTINE

Like everything in our lives so does the lesson need to have some way of starting. 


Let's name the starting of the lesson the introductory routine

Routine in a lesson is similar to habits; if you want to shape yourself in the desired way and achieve a lasting result, you need to repeatedly do things that will lead you to the desired consequences. In other words, you establish habits. 

The introduction to every lesson is, therefore, a habit, which consists of routinely performed activities that consequently lead to a permanent effect on children's lives: educational, social and personal.

You can choose what to include in the routine and shape your own desired effect on children, providing you know what you want to achieve, of course.

My introductory routine:
  • I want us to greet first, so we do the body counting (some sort of brain gym activity) and after that, we sing a 'hello' song. This way children also learn how to count (in a 'by the way' manner).



  • The next thing I want to do is 'prepare them' for the lesson. Children need to activate their brains, so we perform some brain gym activities into which I incorporate shapes. With rhythmical counting, while touching our limbs (in different places on our bodies), together with clapping, we outline different shapes. The shape-activity always ends in a sentence like 'It's a star.' (if the shape is a star).
  • The next activity in an introductory routine is a rhythmic game, with which children practice concentration and some language learning (vocabulary, articles, sentence structure) can be included. Since it is a game, the elements of a game are tailored into the activity to gamify it.  


  • If it is children's first contact with English, it is better to start with social games first, for establishing a positive emotional environment precedes academic learning.
  • The last activity that I use in the routine is so-called 'Poster Presentation'. In that, children present something that is relevant to the ongoing project and is gradually upgraded during the course of the project. With poster-presentation children practice speaking and reporting.


How long does it take to get through the routine?


I never rush. Usually, it takes 15 to 20 minutes. After that, we start the 'body' part of the lesson. 

After the routine, there's not much left of the lesson, is there?


If you plan to organise a 'Child-centred classroom, you cannot have a quality child-centred learning within a 45-minute session. You can rush through it and leave children bereft of internalising the process and only skim the topic for the vocabulary.  




There is a lot more to tell about the project stages. You can read all about it in my next posts. 

If you want to be reminded when it is posted, I suggest you sign up (see the top right 'follow by email', or put your email address on my list). This way you won't miss anything.

Until my next post, you can read related themes: