Thursday, September 24, 2015

The semester has started!!!
First of all, I have to say that I am blessed with wonderful students - for the first time in a long time, I am getting emails and questions OUTSIDE of class time about class CONTENT and not just management - students questioning things I say or asking for more information!! So I guess I have excellent groups or I am doing something better that the frequency is increasing.

There's one pet peeve I have and that is students asking the following question: "Do we really have to read the TKT course/Spendlove book" (there are 2 required readings for 2 different courses)?

And my answer is the following:
"Are you telling me that you have something AGAINST more knowledge and understanding of the topics? Are you telling me that you only want to do the MINIMUM and you are only thinking about your GRADE at the end of the course?"

So I also tell them that if they have looked through the books and feel like they know the material, then that's fine - but most of the time they indicate that they have not even opened the books so how can they actually judge? And I think very few students would know the content of the books and be able to apply it to their classrooms because even myself, after years of teaching, can pick up both books and learn something new or remember something I had not thought about in a long time.

So that's my answer, dear students!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Navajo Hands

So last semester we had three primary school classes at the Zurich University of Teacher Education. And my husband, as a "career-change" student had a course in social studies and science at my university where he heard quite often that science and social studies topics should remain within kids' worlds - so no Navajo for Swiss kids and God-forbid they learn about dolphins. Stick to Switzerland - the canton, the cantons and perhaps the bordering countries and whatever natural phenomena are close-by. So now my daughter is learning about Jura, though she's spent most of her summers amongst the Amish and even the Navajo at times:) (Note: I think she should learn about the Jura, actually but I would not have anything against other topics, either)

That out of my system, since this project (which involved kids from my village, so I still see them) and here are comments I've heard since then (a year and a half later):

Frau Büchel - I'm going to be a teacher, too!!
Frau Büchel - Did you know the Navajo helped end WWII?
Frau Büchel - Look! I have a sandpainting in my room now!!
Frau Büchel - Did you know that dreamcatchers are really just money-makers?
Frau Büchel - When can we come back?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should we have English in the primary/elementary school here in Switzerland?

There are just my rough thoughts on English in the Primary / Elementary Schools in relation to the age and acquisition discussions going on. I add no references, will do so later.
The question about there being a critical age (or not) for the acquisition of a foreign language has long been discussed and we will leave this discussion to the true experts (Birdsong, Singleton, Pfenninger, etc…). So let us assume that they are right and that English for the sake of English has no place in Swiss elementary schools. I can agree with this. It is clear to me that there is no point in having English at the elementary school level for the sake of language competence in English itself.

However, there are reasons for having English at the primary school which might make sense. These reasons could be that:
  • a child’s metalinguistic awareness is augmented (proof ?) by having an early language;
  • a child knows German or his or her mother tongue in a different way than a child who has no access to early foreign languages;
  • the ‘click’ for wanting to use English or trying to use English outside the classroom comes earlier than in children not having an early language;
  • children are less afraid to try in any language they attempt when they are older due to having had English earlier;
  • learners and parents want it;
  • teachers like teaching it. 
So there are reasons for having English at the primary school if we can find proof of the above statements (I will have to go and look, I think there is, I have read some articles about the first few points, I’ll just have to go back through and find it).

However, if we agree that English for the sake of English is not the purpose of English, then the curriculum and HOW English is taught will have to be changed. In the report cards here in Zurich, reading, writing, speaking and listening skills are measured. These are on the one hand skills, but on the other hand knowledge. If the larger aim of public education is to teach children how to learn, then these curricular aims will have to be changed. I provide a few examples here from my own children’s experiences:

1) Knowing how to use a dictionary. I have to tell my daughters at home all the time that I am not a walking dictionary - that they have to get off their butts and look it up. So as a teacher you have 4 English-German dictionaries in the classroom, 4 computers and 3 English-English dictionaries. A child wants to know how to spell “who”. She googles ‘huu’ and gets nowhere. She gives up. You tell her to think and try something else. She looks under “h” in the English-English dictionary. She can’t find it. She goes to the German-English and looks up “wer” – aha, there’s ‘who’!! She goes back to the computer (because someone else needed it, so she couldn’t stay on it) and she finds out how to say it properly (Mirriam-Webster had a sound file as do many other online dictionaries) and then finds an example sentence with it. She notes it down in her English booklet with another question so she can remember how it’s used.
Curricular standard: “I know how to use a dictionary and I don’t give up.” Do we care that she knows the word ‘who’ in English? Not really. Do we care that she could solve this issue herself. Yes.

2) Knowing how to get your message across if you can’t remember the word. My daughters say “Yes, you know what I mean. That thing-a-ma-jiggy”. And they get a blank stare. So why not in the classroom have them practice saying the word in German with an English (or Indian or South African, whatever) accent, have them practice talking AROUND the word in the target language; have them describe it or show it with their bodies.
Curricular standard: “I can get my message across even if I don’t know a word”.

So I could list more examples of these instances. And the point I’d like to make is that we are measuring the WRONG things. And if we change what we measure, then we might still find that English has NO PLACE in the local primary school curriculum. With handicrafts, wood shop or other subjects if you challenge children enough, the very same skills could be tested. Perseverance. Using a dictionary. Getting your message across. And so on.

And this would then be an argument for keeping English as well, but we’d have to change the report card system. And so I’d like to suggest that we change the system!! Like in some of the English schools I’ve seen, have German, Math and Sport on Monday-Friday every morning. Have Handicrafts and French on Monday afternoons. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons can be “clubs” or 4 week “mini projects” with some subject-specific goals but with more general goals. The Chess Club. The Singing Club. The English Club. Kids learn: Perseverance, to use a dictionary, to get their message across. And so on.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Body Parts in English

I have to say that I am slightly not happy with the over-focus on body parts in Swiss 2nd and 3rd grades. 

Often, they are introduced in the 2nd grade. And then since Zurich teachers often use a book meant for the first year of EN over two years, or they take a first level book for the first year and start again with a first level book the second year, the kids get this language twice. In one book, the children have to look at each other and ask “Do you have green eyes” – how stupid can you get!!!

So I am just sitting here thinking about the last time I ever talked about my eyes or nose or hair. Here’s what I came up with:
  • I need to cut my hair.
  •  I got my contact lens stuck in my eye at dinner.
  •  You know, the woman with the red hair….
  •  I have a runny nose.
  •  Oh, my goodness, I ate so many beans. There’s a rumbling in my stomach.

So that makes me think of situations (contexts) that might make sense for teaching this language:
  • Describing people NOT in the room (the boy with the brown eyes…
  • Needs (I need to wash my face)
  • Medical situation: (I think I have an ear infection; My nose hurts).
  •  Sports: Cooperative learning: pairs – put 3 elbows and 4 feet on the ground… Krankenfangnis: Ow, my ear (and if you can say it in EN, then you are freed). Various exercises.
  • Disgusting bodily issues role plays at the dinner table (I need to pluck my chin hair – You have crumbs on your mouth – You have a booger in your nose).

Of course you never do these things in English in Switzerland, but in that sense, a lot of English in the textbooks is artificial in Switzerland. However, we can try to make a situational, conversational match to when it might be the case. Learning the words for the sake of learning the words doesn’t make sense. Rarely does one have an ear, nose, and eye infection at the same time.

I would suggest that teachers spend some time thinking about these situations and also browsing on corpora of English (international or elsewise) to find out how words are commonly used. For example, use the Brown…. ( to enter the word ‘ear’ and the highest frequencies of the use of ‘ear’ would be:
  • Ear infection
  •  Play it by ear

So for young learners, the medical situation might be the most relevant for a main situational context and on a side note, also teach “Play it by ear” in ways that theories of embodiment might suggest.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Busy Hands

We had another great day working with the kids! The kids made a variety of products and I did hear that many of them knew that dreamcatchers were not really Navajo and they knew the reason for some of the games they made - which specific skills they trained. I was really impressed with the boys who made the game where they rolled the big dreamcatchers and tried to catch them with the stick. Great idea!

Students: Our students are super - I would be very proud if they were to teach my children! They are honest, communicative, trustworthy and pleasant. Don't be afraid to ask for a job recommendation.

Assessment rubrics: Due to the mass of planning and organization of having all these kids at the PH, we have not been able to get the depth that would have been nice. Of course that was to be expected. And at the same time, I believe by simply having developed an observation rubric, having had to take notes and think about what they WOULD write, they have learned a lot about how to think like a teacher.

Positive effects of this project

  • Kids - they are so very happy to be at the PH, in a new setting. The whole trip together, the being in mixed groups is great.  This fit in nicely with Zukunftstag.
  • Parents - actually know what we do at the PH, have some insight into teacher training.
  • Teachers - get to see their kids in action in a different setting
  • Students - Get to take notes in a systematic way and think about how it would be when they are teaching; get to make an impression on kids - who knows, a few years down the road a few of them will be teachers.
Things to improve
  • Spend more time in the module actually planning the project. This project probably belongs more to didactics than Lernfelder.
  • Spend more time planning the project so that the assessment forms are at the forefront and not a side-thought after all the planning.
  • Communicate about parents and teachers dropping in and out better - that said, provide clearer rules and imply prepare students better for this.
  • ...
There are more things to improve, I know, but it's time for bed....zzzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

AFL projects with students

Today we had our first day of the project "Navajos don't live in tipis" at the PH! Kudos to you, students, for doing such an excellent job!!! Here are my initial thoughts:

AFL: Well, you will get to try out a few things, but the entire process cannot be observed in 2-4 days at the PH. I am fully aware of the fact, but still, I think you perhaps learn how to take notes about children and what systems/strategies you need, especially with a larger group! And here you get practice in observation - the whole situation of having a new teacher for a while is a chance and a challenge on both sides, and how you document what you observed can be very important in forming an opinion and also not losing thoughts that you have at the time. I saw some good techniques that can fit into formative attitude towards teaching and these little experiences you have not will perhaps be remembered and used later.

The topic: Well, I am not sure if we are breaking down cliches, but at least everyone is in the process of learning! So at times I think the topic was poorly chosen, on the other hand I think that it's a topic we see in Swiss schools, so here is a chance to deepen knowledge.
Zoe Buechel (she's mine, so I can publish her:))

The kids or the students? I had this discussion with Kathleen and I have to hope that what we are doing is beneficial to both!! I know for the kids it is exciting to be somewhere else, with new people, new places, new ideas, new chances and friends, but I am not sure that I have met the balance for the students. We will see in a few weeks!

So thank you for the work well done!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mixing Pegasus and Stress - perfect language lessons!

Pegasus rocks!!

Last week we talked about how to deal with English and French teaching. We discussed things like assigning homework on a strategy rather than language level, on contrastive linguistics, on the advantages of being qualified to teach both subjexts, on using music. And tonight, sitting here, Alison informs me that one of her classmates is related to Noah Veraguth! So we said, being really uncool parents, "Huh, who's that?". Upon further inspection we find out he's the lead singer of Pegasus and that he has a song with Stress (who we mentioned because he sings in French and English and German)!!

So here is an example:

See Noel's Room

for many other songs in both languages!
Of course, there are other artists like Patricia Kaas, Raffi, Etienne, who sing in both languages, but here are some more modern ones.

And next semester perhaps we'll develop some worksheets or some activities to teach the language of one of their songs!