Thursday, June 4, 2009

Motivating lessons at NILE

Here I am once again at NILE, in Norwich, England. It's been extremely productive - we'll revamp the stay in England a bit for the next set of students - and also inspiring! But let's just look at the inspiring language aspect and not the inspiring organizational aspect.

Today I got to sit in on Mr. Jamie Keddie ( and got to focus on two main text-reconstructions activities that I summarize here below:
1) Watch a Youtube short video without sound (e.g. "Procrastination" Tales Of Mere Existence")
2) After watching the video, elicit vocabulary and recreate the story verbally with the learners
3) Teacher has prepared the text in advance. Do some sort of language work with it, such as a running dictation where the learners then have to write the text and put the sentences in the order shown in the video.
4) Learners compare what they wrote with what was provided and correct their answers.
5) Each sentence is written on a blank card. Each learner is given a sentence and has to draw a picture of it on the other side.
6) Show the pictures to the class and elicit the sentence. In chorus, repeat the sentences.
7) The picture/sentence cards can be used for a variety of other language activities.

Adaptions for the primary school level or with beginners.
  • You might let them watch the Youtube video with the sound.
  • Let them watch the video without sound, but have key words and chunks (with distractors) prepared.
  • Simplify the language of the video as much as possible.
  • With the running dictation, have it in the form of a gap text, where they run, read the sentence, run back, but then fill in the gap text with the word and not rewrite the whole text.

The second idea went as follows:

1) Explain to the learners that their task will be to draw what they hear, but first they have to listen.
2) Have the learners put their pens down. Read the text to draw out loud.
3) As the learners to recreate what they just heard. Start writing what they say on the board.
4) Now let the learners take over - pass the board marker to a student who has to continue. Adaptation: Let the student write a sentence or two but then pass it to another student (or put stars under their chairs in advance so those people have to write).
5) Once the text has been recreated, reread the original text and discuss any discussions held during the text reconstruction.
6) Have the students draw their pictures.
7) Discuss the pictures (in this case, activate prior knowledge about the T Rex).
8) This particular example included speech bubbles. Once the pictures were finished, learners were given an "A" or a "B". The As had to write two lines of a joke. The Bs had to write the other two lines of the joke.
9) The instructor explained that this joke was told to him by his father. The learners' homework was now to rewrite the joke in their own words.

Adaptions for the primary school level or with beginners.

  • This would work just as is with a very simple picture description.
  • With early writers, have the text written and cut up (with distractors). Have the children put the text together and copy it or have a gap fill on the board or first letters of words or have the teacher write the whole reconstruction and then the learners copy it.
  • Give the children another joke for homework, provide them with a technique for memorizing it (look, say, cover, say, check) and have them tell their joke to a partner in class the following day.

Thanks, Jamie!!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Who said no more vocabulary tests?

Dear Parents,
Your teacher asked me to write to you because there seems to be a modern misconception that good principles of modern foreign language teaching encourage your child’s teacher to purposefully neglect to provide you with a list of vocabulary and grammar items that your child can study at home. Your teacher is often asked “which grammar should my child know, which vocabulary?”

Just because language aims are not spelled out in terms of structures and words does not mean that these structures and words are not there, otherwise volumes of respectable academic literature (Bablyonia 4/08) would not be dedicated to these topics! Moreover, the new curriculum does provide some suggestions for vocabulary and structures, but generally, how well you know a language is generally more and more defined by what you can DO in a language and this links more to reading, writing, speaking and listening. Grammar and vocabulary fall under the skills.

Let’s take a concrete but openly formulated example from the inter-cantonal curriculum and a corresponding descriptor from the European Language Portfolio II at Common European Framework Level of A1.2:
„Die Lernenden können über ihre Vorlieben Auskunft geben” or “Ich kann andere darüber informieren, was ich mag und was ich nicht mag (z.B. in Bezug auf Sport, Musik, Schule, Farben)”. It seems that whoever made these descriptors has hidden the vocabulary and grammar away – where are they? Let’s take a closer look!

Child A says: “I liking hockey, swimming and baseball” (first choice Seasons).
Child B says “My favorite animals are bears and dogs.” (first choice Animals)
Child C says “English is no fun”.
Child D says “Fish smell horrible.” (first choice Senses)
Child E says “I love Easter. I hate Halloween”. (first Choice, One World, Many People)

Without overanalyzing the above utterances, you will see that all five children have demonstrated possible achievement the level of A1.2 (you might need a bit more input to decide officially). Though not all grammatically correct, all utterances are comprehensible (a native speaker would understand or would only have to ask once for repetition).

However, what you see are four different contexts. Within these contexts, there are different words used (animals, adjectives, sports). The four different grammar structures could be used interchangeably in the four different contexts.

You see that Child A made a grammatical mistake. Teaching the structure does not ensure that a child will master the structure, especially the first time around. However, the descriptor is successfully demonstrated though within the descriptor you can also analyze the range of structures and words, the accuracy of the structures and words, the pronunciation and the task achievement. It could be that Child A has achieved the lower end of A1.2.

If your other child is in upper-primary and has started with Explorers, you will also see that vocabulary and grammar are assessed in speaking and writing. Obviously if a child didn’t understand something or understood incorrectly in the listening and reading tests, then vocabulary and grammar played a role.

The only thing the official curriculum can do is to SUGGEST structures and vocabulary but why should these be set in stone? Your child’s teacher needs you to trust in her that she can work flexibly in different topics to make contexts relevant to your child and the entire class. She needs you to see language not as a list of vocabulary and grammar items that are to be memorized and drilled, but that a good range of structures and words support your child’s ability to read, write, speak and listen to a language.

So let’s end with a bit of food for thought:
If this is the era of post-methodology, why can’t we cater to the needs of the learners within the contexts appropriate to a certain class? If a child learns to say “I love bananas. I hate apples” in the context of food, because that class enjoys food, and another child in another class learns to say “My favorite sport is hockey” because that class is an athletic class, then what’s the big deal? Your child will certainly learn the structure “My favorite… is …” because that will appear in another context at another point in the upcoming years. There ARE clear guidelines through the curriculum, through the descriptors, through the textbooks and through the various assessment means and vocabulary and grammar are a part of them.

Do we need to stop teachers from teaching “My most preferred source of entertainment happens to be spending my Sunday afternoons hiking in the lovely forests around Rafz”? No! Your teacher has some common sense and can set language goals based on the class’s needs, the descriptors in the official curriculum and based on what textbook she is working in.

There is so much to learn – why limit it to lists? There’s nothing wrong with defining language goals with vocabulary and grammar lists but this is a bit rigid and encourages drilling language (which has its role, too) and limits creativity. Moreover, it doesn’t guarantee a certain standard. Defining contexts first or defining what a learner should be able to DO in a language tends to take the needs of the learners a bit more into consideration, includes vocabulary and grammar, but does not place them in the forefront.

Why do things have to be spelled out clearly – language is not black and white? Would you like your child to be in a class where every child says “I like bears and dogs” because those are the language goals? Perhaps your child is afraid of dogs! Let language live lively and let language goals be flexible!

Laura Loder Büchel
(2005): Europäisches Sprachenportfolio für die 11-15-Jährigen (ESP II). Zugelassenes Lehrmittel. Bildungsratsbeschluss vom 11.7.2005. In: Schulblatt des Kantons Zürich, H. 9, S. 475–478.
Achermann, B. and Sprague, K. Explorers series. Lehrmittelverlag des Kantons Zürich, Switzerland.
Andrew Littlejohn and Helgrid Hammesfahr Schofield. First Choice series. Lehrmittelverlag des Kantons Zürich, Switzerland.
Brown, H.D. (2002). English language teaching in the post-method era: Toward better diagnosis, treatment, and assessment. In J. C. Richards and W. A. Renandya (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice (pp. 9-18). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Council of Europe. (EducationàLanguage Policy Division). March 26, 2009.
Schulverlag. European Language Portfolio. March 26, 2009.
Zürich (Hg.) (2006): Englisch Primarstufe. Ergänzung zum Lehrplan für die Volksschule. Zürich: Lehrmittelverlag des Kantons Zürich.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Die letschti Schwalbe

Ein wichtiges Element des friedlichen und erfüllten Lebens mit Kindern sind echte Kompromisse, die nicht bloss den Kindern gefallen, sondern mit denen auch die Eltern glücklich bleiben. Ein nicht zu unterschätzendes Gebiet für derartige echte Kompromisse ist die Musikauswahl in der Heimdisco. Wir hören zuhause gerne viel Musik und tanzen gelegentlich auch wild dazu. Allerdings findet man in unserer CD-Sammlung auch Werke, die den coolsten Daddy zum Ausrasten bringen.

Unsere absolute Folter-CD trug den bedrohlichen Titel "Toddler Rock" und wurde unserer Älteren von einer sadistischen Verwandten geschenkt. Das Cover zierte ein fettes Baby in Lederjacke und Sonnenbrille, die Verwandte hatte also mit voller Absicht gehandelt, die Lieder wurden ausnahmslos von krächzenden Kleinkindern vorgetragen, die allesamt an einem verfrühten Stimmbruch litten und jeden Ton mit Präzision knapp verfehlten.

Ich schreibe dies alles in der Vergangenheit, denn wir mussten die CD mit dem Bulldozer zermalmen, nicht weil es sich um eine illegale Kopie gehandelt hätte, sondern um unser Familienglück zu retten. Natürlich nicht ersatzlos, als Nachfolger kauften wir "Best of Pooh and Heffalumps", ganz klar kinderorientiert, aber doch auch nach 8 Wiederholungen im Tag aushaltbar. Und wir entdeckten die Freuden des Kinder-CD-Shopping. Die phantastische "Elephant of Surprise" von Clare de Lune, "Sternschnuppesuppe" von Linard Bardill, der Soundrack zu Shrek (oder "Shrink", wie ihn unsere Jüngste nennt), eine glückliche Zeit!

Und dann kam irgendwie dieser Andrew Bond reingeschneit, mit "Zimetschtärn hani gärn". Wir hatten schon von ihm gehört, er ist in diesem Land unter Eltern nicht unbekannt, und dann noch mit diesem Namen! Aber meine erste Anhörung fiel ernüchternd aus: trotz des Namens sang er keineswegs auf Englisch, einige Wiederholungen fingen gleich an zu nerven ("wär isch das Männli, säg wär kännts - das isch dänk de Grittibänz!", nach 4maliger Wiederholung weiss auch unsere Kleinste die Antwort), und vor allem lässt er Kinder ans Mikrofon, die sich zwar viel mehr bemühen als die Gören von "Toddler Rock", bei denen aber doch nicht jeder Pieps ein Treffer ist. Und so wurde unsere erste Bond-CD immer wieder diskret hinter anderen Entdeckungen (etwa Werken von Jim Gill, einer Art US-Bond) versteckt.

Und dann die Wiederentdeckung! Die CD handelt von der kälteren Jahreszeit, erst wird der Sommer verabschiedet, dann der Herbst begrüsst, schliesslich fällt Schnee, beginnt die Adventszeit, kommt Weihnachten. Ich bin ja erhrlich gesagt froh, dass Weihnachten endlich vorbei ist, ich bin eher ein Sommermensch. Und so kann ich dem zweiten Lied mit der letzten Schwalbe nicht voll zustimmen, wenn es sagt "dr Herbscht isch mini Lieblingsziit". Und doch ist es mein Lieblingslied auf dieser CD, weil ich fast heulen muss beim Zuhören, nicht wegen krächzenden Kinderstimmen, sondern weil es so wehmütig schön ist, wie der richtige Herbst halt. Meine Ältere kann sogar super mitsingen, weil sie's im Chindsgi gelernt hat. Seither ertönt Bond regelmässig fünf mal am Tag, vom Daddy aufgelegt, und noch ein paar mal mehr, wenn es den Kids noch nicht auf die Nerven geht. Es ist absolute Liebe auf den zweiten Blick! Was es doch für schöne Musik für Kinder gibt!

Wir haben allerdings schon noch ein klitzekleines Problem, eine hübsch bemalte CD mit dem "Fuchs Felox", ein Geschenk der Kantonspolizei. Geschenke der Kantonspolizei, habe ich gelernt, darf man nicht mit dem Bulldozer zertrümmern.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Der Platzfüller legt los

Liebe Diskussionsratten,

als Teil dieser Diskussionsseite wäre es schön, wenn ein paar Leute Lust hätten, einen Blog (eine Kolumne würde man bei einer Zeitung sagen) zu einem einigermassen elternmitwirkungsrelevanten und interessanten Thema (Erziehung, Schule, Kinder, Ernährung, Freizeit ...) zu führen.

Beiträge dürfen kurz sein und ziemlich unregelmässig erscheinen.

Blogs sollen die Diskussion (im Forum) anregen, die Bloggerin oder der Blogger darf also durchaus (im Rahmen des Legalen und Anständigen) eine kontroverse und provozierende Meinung vertreten.

Ich bin selber auch am Suchen von Blogwilligen. Bis es soweit ist, schreibt hier ab und zu ... der Platzfüller!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why do young people nowadays insist on showing their underwear or lack thereof? I'm really not prude, really not, and part of me is jealous that my own butt crack isn't nice enough to show, but even if it were, I think I'd keep it neatly tucked in.
So I was thinking about what this means for school policies and dress code formulations. I call them the butt crack policies:
  • Students and teachers alike are not to wear apparel which explicitly emphasizes the fact that they are wearing underwear or not.
  • Intentional display of the butt crack is means for punishment.
  • No wise cracks allowed in this school.
  • All cracks must be properly attired.
  • Garments which do not properly cover all parts of one's posterior are not permitted.

The reason I am blogging about this is because I thought it would make a fun language learning exercise about clothing for you students out there!! Have a nice day!!