Teaching English to Young Learners

 

Today, July 24, Dr. Joan Shin conducted a very interesting workshop on Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL). As usual, in the lines below, I will try to summarize what I learned from her and from my colleagues in this workshop.

 

English has become a lingua franca and in the globalized world we live in. In many countries it has also become a symbol of status and prestige. Besides that, there is a belief that starting learningn thenlanguage earlier is better. As a result of these facts, governments in many countries have implemented policies that oblige schools to make the teaching of English mandatory at younger and younger ages. In addition, parents also feel the need to give their offsprings a lead in the competition for better jobs, and as a consequence, are placing their children in language institutes at earlier ages.

 

This demand for an earlier exposure to English places an extra resposibility on school admisnistrators and on teachers’ shoulders: they need to come up with best practices for teaching taking into account all the peculiar chacteristics of young learners. Such practices .involve, among other things, designing a curriculum that is appropriate to their age, training teachers in methodology that caters to young learners emotional and psychological development, and building an atmosphere that makes students life long learners. In this respect, Dr Shin’s workshop was really helpful once she conducted a series of activities that were practical, enjoyable, purposeful, and meaningful. Besides that, she also gave us hints on adapting these activities to our context.

To those not familiar with the field of teaching, the task of teaching young learners might an easy one. However, as participants pointed out, there are many challenges to be addressed. Among those problems are: the number of hours dedicated to instruction, the lack of support from parents for exposure to target language outside the classroom, and limited linguistic competence of teachers. Some of these problems require a dramatic change in policies at the government level and there is not much we teachers can do about them. However, all of us believe in the power we have as multipliers. Change that is lasting has to be a bottom up process. So, while governments do not change policies, we can try to reach our peers. And that was exactly what we started doing in the afternoon session: try to come with ideas that promote professional development in our local teaching communities.

 

 

 

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A Little on Intercultural Communication

On July 23rd, continuing the UMBC E-Teacher Scholarship Program, we formally started our workshops. I say formally because all of us in the program realized that in the last three days we have been part of a big informal workshop. In the lines below I will try to integrate my perceptions of this whole experience and how the situations we have been through and the interactions we had illustrate concepts related to Intercultural communication.

First, one of the things that Dr. Schwartz showed on his entertaining lecture was that when it comes to communication, we are not any different from our students, and as such we have a drive to communicate and make the uniqueness of our identities perceived. So, as we strolled down streets, went shopping, ate together at The Grits and in restaurants, we were having conversations and expressing our cultural identities through communication. Communication is not restricted to words only, it includes our gestures, the way we dress, and even our silences and pauses. Although we all might claim we teach English, what we really teach is communication.

Once we realize how important communication is, we have to start reflecting on the role that culture plays in communication to be aware of two very important aspects of culture: macro and micro culture. In our interactions with the scholars in the program, the coordinators, and program assistants, while we were striving to memorize names and countries the most salient aspect of their and our identities was the macro culture. Every time we introduced ourselves to the cafeteria staff we tried to snow our macro culture badge. Our macro culture IDs work as an ice breaker and makes communication flow. Macro culture is helpful for small talks and to help us to place people on a map (as we did when we were introducing ourselves and pinning the world map with colored post it notes).

While our macro culture is an important badge or hat to identify us and put a pin in the world map, our micro culture is the one that differentiates and defines us in a unique way. In these three days we have been here we were all lucky to have more meaningful interactions with som e of our peers and express a bit of our uniqueness. In these occasions we talked about our ethnic groups, our marital status, our preferences concerning food and dressing. These were moments that we treasured because they gave us a chance to stop being just a pin on the world map. Our micro culture is what helps us to form more meaningful relationships and break the mold of stereotypes that are many times attributed to our macro culture identities.

Although it seems fascinating to think, talk, and write about this dance of cultural identities, we should take into account that conflicts arise. When different cultures meet, at first everything seems to be a bed of roses. This is true especially if it is long awaited encounter, as is our case. This cultural honeymoon also lasts longer when you already know a lot about the target culture or are otherwise under the spell of the fascination of discovery. However, as time goes by and you start experiencing frustrations due to unmet expectations, difficulties to achieve very basic goals, and other difficulties. As a result of such frustrations a relationship with a person or country (a culture) goes stale – culture shock. Symptoms of culture shock can be subtle such as criticism of aspects of host culture such as food or way of dressing. Other times culture shock can cause depression and a total refusal of further interaction with the target culture. Hopefully all of us are just in this minor state of culture shock (the fun crab feast) and under the spell of discovery. So, let’s hope it continues like that, but if we happen to be victims of such cultural experience we know there are friends we can count on.

Finally, we have also learned from Dr. Schwartz culture shocks are not a privilege of those traveling abroad. Culture shocks happen within the walls of our schools and classes and we have to be aware of them. However, awareness only is not enough. As educators, we should design activities that do not only allow students to express their macro and micro cultures, but that also makes them aware of differences and conflict and teach them strategies to deal with them.

UMBC Day 03 – Baltimore Art Festival, Baltimore Aquarium, and Mezze Restaurant

 
 
 
 
 
July 22nd was another surprising day of activities for e-teacher scholars. We started the day with breakfast at The Grits. Next we got into the bus to go to the Baltimore Art Festival. As usual, the bus dropped us at our first destination – the Baltimore Art Festival – and we were told it would pick us up in about three hours. From then on we were on our own. I really like the configuration these group strolls take. We generally depart with a group of friends and change our strolling peers as we walk and get called by someone else or get distracted by our uniqueness of interests. This unintended group arrangement provides an opportunity for a bigger variety of interaction and is itself a very enriching personal and cultural experience.
 
 
 

Apart from the human and interactional side of this excursion, the Art Festival in itself is fantastic. The festival is one the biggest of this kind in The U.S. Part of the downtown area streets are blocked for the event. As you walk up and down you can see lots of interesting works of art. Works of art range from paintings to handcraft and from glass miniatures to installation art. There was even an impressive collection of insect replicas. Besides that, there were food stands with a great assortment of choices in case visitors got hungry. I did and I got myself some smoothie and a gyros. Really a great choice for a Sunday morning.

 

 
 

After the art festival we got the bus and headed to the Baltimore Aquarium. Sitting at the harbor area, this is a four-story building displaying a fascinating collection of water creatures in their different habitats, some rain forest insects and frogs and tropical botanic garden. Again we constantly changed our walking, chatting, picturing peers. I personally found it a very enriching educational experience. As I walked with Valentina, she shared very interesting stories related to animals and the discoveries one can make while closely observing animals in general. We talked about how kids and adults as well can benefit of such experiences and develop a deep respect for all species of life surrounding them. I kept wishing I had my English Access students and my nephews with me. It was so interesting that we had to rush to mange to get a glimpse of everything before our bus arrived. The aquarium showed some of us a world that some of us had only seen on television and it allowed us to share our personal stories about the ones that were familiar to us.

 

After so much walk, we felt tired and hungry. So, the next stop was the Mezze Restaurant. For this early dinner we sat in parties of five, six, or seven. On my table we talked about so many things. Some of the topics were: food (of course), our students and schools, vacations, what we watch on television, our native languages and their peculiarities and similarities. Needless to say the food was delicious, and being such an unskilled cook, I could not name all the dishes that we were served. The conversation was fantastic, and to be honest, with such wonderful conversation and conversationalists, I could probably go hungry for another two hours. This reminds of a scene of one of my favorite movies AI (a project of Stanley Kubrick directed by Steven Spielberg). In this scene the mother is taking the now unwanted boy robot to disposal ground on the woods. The boy robot, unaware of his “adoptive mother's” intentions strikes a conversation. The mother is extremely sad and really does not want to abandon him because she has grown to love the robot boy. It goes more or less like this.

” What will we have for dinner today? ” asks the boy robot.

” You never eat.” the mother says. He is robot and he can't eat. If he does, he is seriously damaged.

” But I like to sit at the table.” Replies the boy robot.

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Classroom Interaction

Foldable for reading activity

Techniques and behaviors for increasing student participation and practice in class.

On July 25 Dr. Ron Schwartz came back to teach and entertain us a little bit. This time we also had the pleasure to have Madeleine Schwartz as a lecture. The topic of the day was classroom interaction and here is a summary to myself and my readers.

When we teach English, we do not just teach a language, we teach communication. If communication is the goal of our teaching, then classroom interactions are really a vital part of our classes. Therefore, this workshop made us reflect on our practices and gave some ideas on how to promote classroom interactions that help our students learn. This reflection, however, was coupled with experiential learning. Such feat was achieved because the techniques and behaviors discussed were role played during the entire workshop having participants act as teachers or students.

One of the tips shared by Dr. Schartz was a chart in which we could mark the kinds of interactions happening in class. As Dr. Schwartz proceeded with the lecture, participants marked on the hand out the equivalent interaction pattern (teacher asks question, student answers question, student volunteers, etc). This exercise reminded us of the importance of guaranteeing even participation and monitoring the quality of language produced by our students. Although the procedure demonstrated seemed to some of us a little challenging to be execute, it could be used by a peer teacher to observe our classroom and later feedback. A chart like this could also serve as check list to keep on the back of our minds, as a reference to remind us of promoting good exchange and real communication.

As we discussed interaction, the theoretical discussion came to the foreground. This gave us an opportunity to reexamine our, beliefs, methods, and approaches to language teaching in the light of our experince as teachers and the context of our institutions and countries. This was good exercise because it allowed us to share our perspective and reminded us that there is no such a thing as one size fits all method or approach. The ideal method or approach is the one that takes students needs into consideration and is flexible and not restrained by theoretical limitations.

Still related to classroom interaction, we discussed techniques and behaviors that conduct to effective leaning. At this point, Madeleine Schwartz gave us a sample class for teaching very young learners (eleme notary students). We played the role of students and she conducted a very instructive reading activity. The used of foldables together with reading strategies such as predicting, clarifying, asking questions, and summarizing gave us precious tips on ways to engage young learners in reading activities.

On a cultural note, we were reminded that culture affects one interaction style. Although this is little stereotypical, but is helpful to understand the way people interact. Americans are monochronic/linear and when answering to a question go straight to the point and do not give much extra information on the topic. Latins, on their turn, are polychronic and tend to zig zag as they answer a question or tell a story. So being aware of these differences between our culture and the target culture is helpful in making our spoken (and even written – essays) interactions more successful.

E-Teacher – The Grits

The Grits

Meet The Grits. This will  be our first hang out place every morning. This morning I got there at seven something. I had to go back an forth many times. First I had forgotten my umbrella, then my iPad, then my jacket. I guess I am getting old or just forgetful. All these things turned out to be really useful. 
It was really nice to meet everyone rested and enjoy the first meal together.

E-Teacher Journal – A Draft

Today is the 20th of July. After about ten hours of flight I finally arrived at the UMBC Campus. I really caught myself biting my nails all the way till I got here. I was a bit impatient with the taxi driver. Although I had a map and everything, I was still a bit afraid to get lost and not make it. First I went to the wrong entrance of the building. One of the staff showed me where I had to go. While walking to the next entrance, I realized that on the rush to find the right place I had left my taxi receipt behind. When I turning around to fetch the forgotten paper, I saw the lady that had given me directions walking behind me with the receipt on her hand. Then again, I entered the wrong building. Finally, with help of a second person, I made it to the right place. It was a relief when Rebecca welcomed me, gave me key and took me to my room. I was really happy to find this beautiful bag filled with treats. Now I am headed for lunch. Just cannot wait to meet the other scholars later tonight.

 

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Lunch was fine. There was a big variety of things to choose from and this made me feel home. I usually eat in a restaurant that has a wide choice of vegetables. So, I stuck with vegetables, some pasta, and bread. For dessert, I just couldn’t help eating some cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

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While BBQ time did not come, I took the usual after lunch nap. I slept for about an hour and then took a walk around the campus. I was dying to get some coffee. So I went to the bookstore building The Commons. However, as I checked the possible coffee place it seemed to be a bit after hours. So, I decided to check the bookstore.

 

The BBQ

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Barbecue time was fun. We finally met Teresa Valais who has been chaperoning us in this voyage. Joan and Adriana also joined us. We had a great evening and while we savored the food we talked a bit about our experiences and the present state of education in our countries. Scholars arrived little by little, and as they arrived they joined the conversation. I know I should try to name everyone, but I am terrible with names. The food in the pictured is wrapped because we were always waiting for someone else o arrive. Chaouki, who is going to be my roommate, had not arrived till I wrote this post. I really tried to wait as much as I could, but tiredness got the best of me and I had to come to my room. However, before going to bed, I decided to write this post.