The “Dos and Don’ts” for children -Teaching Young Learners – Part 2 The final thoughts

I’d like to start this new post about YLE by giving you some food for thought:
                                                                     photo by ELT pics

Remember the days when you were kid. What did you most like doing when:

You were at school?
You were not at school?
What the best memories have you got from your childhood?
Is childhood a magical time? Why? Why not?

Watch the video.  Do you think children from those times were different from today´s children? Why?  Why not?

Who are  young learners?  
They are our students and they’re children.  

                                                                            slide by Roseli Serra

Teaching YLE is different from teaching adults. Young learners tend to change their mood every other minute and they find extremely difficult to sit still.  On the other hand, they are usually the most motivated learners who are easily engaged to do things that appeal to them. 

And what do we  really know about children? What do they like? What do they need? How do they learn? 

Characteristics of YLE:
  • Body control – moving from uncoordinated movements to precise movements – gross motor activity to fine motor skills – gaining control of body – developing ability to synchronize hands, feet and body – better spatial organization – STILL we have pencil cases falling on the floor during our lessons
  • Kinaesthetic – accompanying actions help SS memorise words / anchor meaning. They need both physical and mental stimuli to develop learning. Children bring into the classroom motor skills which can be applied to the process of learning a foreign language. The ability to t mime, sing and get engaged in activities which involve music and movement. Asking a child to repeat words is not as profitable as asking them to GO and TOUCH and repeat.
  • Distractible /concentration span – the ability to keep on task and to ignore distraction is a symptom of the child’s intellect, and changes in concentration span are related to intellectual development. For children to pay attention and concentrate on tasks, we have to provide concrete, perceptual support ( e.g: flash cards). We have to embody the material to be learned and remembered in a task that makes sense to a child. 
  • Imperatives to concentrate, memorise or learn are almost bound to fail. According to Vygotsky, mature mental activity involves self-regulation and these self-regulations are developed through social interaction. In this view, instruction and schooling play a central role in helping children to discover how to pay attention, concentrate and learn effectively. 
  • INTERNET/ GAMES/ Apps/ Web tools -affecting concentration span? No if they are used with a purpose and monitored by wise adults. 
  • Holistic – YLEs will probably pay attention to the main words in a message and not notice every single word. It means SS do not learn a language analysing its parts, but are interested in it as a whole, in what they can do with it. They don’t see language as an intellectual game involving an abstract system.
  • Logical thinking / Problem solving skills / Language ability to analyse, plan, categorise, etc. And develop concepts. The younger the children are the more they will behave in a trial and error way to solve problems. They are not likely to plan a strategy to tackle the problem and consider each part of the problem.  Piaget has certainly contributed to the understanding of how logical thinking develops (adaptation + assimilation processes – soft ball v hard ball / pre-operational and concrete operational). Vygostky claims that language and the social relationships have a major role in the development of logical thinking. (ZPD - Zone of Proximal Development – the role of adults + peers in one’s development) à Language – learners are developing concepts and the meaning of words.
  • Social skills – co-operative behaviour in play starts developing when children are about 5. Gradually, the peer group becomes more and more important as a source of motivation. Gradually they become more able to accept the rules of a game and to work collaboratively towards a shared goal. Greater interaction seems to take place within same –sex groups- it seems to be a feature of children’s social and emotional development à learning about oneself  as a social being through identification with the same-sex peer group. They understand what is good and bad, acceptable or not.
Having said all the above, I  reinforce the idea that children learn through
play – They need to play because this is how they interact with the world
and learn it. For this they need motor -sensory activities which involve the
use of imagination, language, and the interaction with others.

slide by Roseli Serra

So, our big challenge as EFL teachers is to bring the element of fun and play into the classroom. And how do we do that?

The younger the learners the more physical they tend to be and the more they need to make use  of all their senses. ( Brewster , Ellis and Girard, 2003)
According to Berman (1998),  if children can draw or visualise an image, hum it , or move through it first, they may be able to more easily talk or write about it. On the basis theory of multiple intelligences, in this regard, children can also draw a picture while listening to a description, act out  a nursery rhyme, follow instructions or make a shape or simple model while they listen to a description of it. This draws on learning by the ear and is good for those with bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence. Motor -sensory activities involve the use of imagination, language or interaction with others.  

" Learning does not occur in a vacuum. Learners discover and construct meaning from information they experience on their unique perceptions, thoughts and feelings."   
                                                      (Brewester, Ellis and Girard, 2003)

                                                                   photo by ELT pics

What about classroom activities? They should...
  • be short, enjoyable & stimulating.
  • allow learners to experiment with the language.
  • require various responses from learners (linguistic, physical, musical etc).
  • provide opportunities for individual & group work.
  • provide opportunities for imitation & repetition.
  • be conducted in   an anxiety-free environment.
  • allow room for personalisation.
  • be fun and offer challenging opportunities for learners to accomplish something through interaction using the target language.
  • have clear purposes and aims in order to enhance learner’s sense of achievement. 
slide by Roseli Serra
  • Appropriacy - to the target age
  • Language pay-off  - how much the activity encourages the use of the language, either productively or receptively / communication
  • Level of challenge -  how much the activity will engage SS and involve them in the task
  • The element of fun - it brings to class à no anxiety / stress free environment
                                                                                     Picture (word cloud) by Roseli Serra
Final thoughts:

Although teaching kids demands from us a lot more effort, creativity and energy, it brings us a lot more fun and positive feedback.  Let’s never forget that:

Learning takes many intelligences - Learning becomes more effective when learners get involved in tasks which stimulate a multiplicity of intelligences. The activities and tasks proposed in Fun Factory encourage students to speculate on the language, to solve problems, and to be creative, among other things.

L1 as an ally -  As we are aware of our learner’s language system features, we find ourselves in a position which allows us to anticipate difficulties. Although teachers and learners are encouraged to use English as much as possible, using L1 in the young learners classroom may prove to be an effective tool to offer learners affective support and enhance their self-confidence.

The learning process is cyclical -Learning does not take place in a linear way . Learners need time and lots of exposure to the target language to be able to internalize it. Instead of massive repetition in one go. Consistent recycling through dynamic and lively activities is crucial.

Grammatical & lexical - achieve communicative competence - it’s important to develop accuracy in order to enable learners to communicate

The digital generation: YLEs are used to multi-tasking (they have the ability to do many things at one go) – they zap the world  , so, they do not have much patience or tolerance and they seem to read the world in a complete different way - hypertexts

Language is a means of communication - Classroom activities  should aim at promoting interaction among learners. Bear in mind the focus on essential language for immediate communication.

Vocabulary is the major tool to carry meaning - the use of language in meaningful chunks most of the time. This provides learners with useful tools which meet their immediate need to communicate from the very beginning.

Learners need to have motivation and to develop a sense of achievement from the very beginning- In order to nurture students’ motivation and a positive feeling towards the process of learning, learners need to be exposed to challenging but comprehensible input in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere in which they feel at ease, confident and ready to learn. 

The teacher should build an anxiety-free environment and present activities that are useful to the learners, relevant to their needs and within their capability, which should ensure motivation and foster a sense of achievement.

Last but not least...
                                photo by ELT pics                                                    

Enjoy your teaching! 

The “Dos and Don’ts” for children -Teaching Young Learners – Part 1

 ‘Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.’ 
              Dr Haim Ginott 

photo by ELTpics

For a couple of weeks I have actively participated in several discussion forums upon different topics carried by Professor Willy Renandya. This group of teachers have enriched me with wonderful reflections and teaching practices. 

Recent survey made in Korea showed high level of demotivation of YLE to learn English.  Having discussed the results upon kids'  demotivation to learn English I was inspired to blog upon the subject. According to the survey: 
   Almost 50% of the children  said: “I don’t want to study English.” 

They said: “English was interesting at first, but I lost interest because it required too much work.” If we ask those children learning English in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. Perhaps we hear the same answer too?

Along the discussion forum Professor Wily Renandya  claimed: "The children in the survey probably wanted to say the following, but didn't have the language to say it: 
         1. If English were a lot more fun, we'd want to learn it; 
         2. If my English teacher were fun to be with, we'd want to learn more from her; 
         3. If my English teacher gave us more fun exercises, we'd learn English in no time: 
         4. If the course books contained more fun-filled activities, we'd do a lot more practice on our own at home; 
         5. If learning English were more like learning how to play the piano (and not like learning Maths or science), we'd be more interested; 
         6. If ... etc.” 

So how could us teachers change this reality? What’s peculiar about YLE? 
See below some steps I suggest for successful lessons I have learnt by both observing teachers and by teaching YLE ( and teens , I believe) 

1. When kids learn a foreign language
      • They focus more on meaning, rather than form 
      • They need a variety of activities. 
      • They benefit from being actively involved. 
      • They are curious and active. 
      • They use language creatively. 

 2. Connecting with children: Rapport is the key to successful communication.  

  • It may be that the teacher’s relationship with their pupils is more important in the end than the particular teaching method used. So make sure you establish eye-contact with your learners and show you are a good listener.      
  • Be aware of your posture, the tone of your voice, and where you stand in the classroom.                                                                                  

3. Respect their age and level of maturity : Do not treat your nine-year olds as if they were little babies for they are not, but do not assume they are like teenagers either. 

4. Children come in all kinds. Some are quiet and may look quite shy (just do not act as if they are, instead ask yourself what you can do help them build self-confidence. Whatever you do, don’t use labels). Some are naughty and may show disruptive behaviour, but won’t challenge you or strive for confrontation. So beware of the subtle behavioural manifestations. Some others can be showy or simply highly-motivated. Still others will do as asked and show a lot of dependence while others will require room for their independence. 

 5. All of your students need your individual attention 

 • Children are very spontaneous and creative, so be open to join them, and ready to step out to control a situation whenever necessary. 
 • Show your good-humoured nature and laugh together with your learners. Sharing moments build trust. 
 • Remember children are very sensitive. Be sincere. And be there 100%. 

6. Building a supportive atmosphere : To enhance language learning: Build a strong sense of security where the children can strengthen their sense of belonging and self-esteem for better emotional well-being which will provide them scaffolding to back up learning and motivation as well as resilience. So: 

  • Make your classroom a lively place 
  • Motivate pupils to want to learn English 
  • Help pupils to develop personal reasons for learning English. 
  • Enjoy the lessons and be a real listener 
  • Praise your students.
  • Establish routines. “Children’s self-esteem largely depends on the experiences, positive or negative, that they have in their environment, on how they are viewed by the people they see as worthy: parents, teachers, peers. Their repeated responses are mirrors through which children see and judge their image.” 

photo by Cândice Guzmán

7. Making lessons meaningful

“In the early stages, before the child has developed a full awareness of language, language is embedded for him in the flow of the events which accompany it. So long as this is the case, the child does not interpret words in isolation – he interprets situations. He is more concerned to make sense of what people do when talk and act than to decide what words mean.” 

Margareth Donaldson 

We have our preferences, we have our own very personal style(s) and uniqueness – the way we learn, the way we represent the world is dependent on our preferred style(s). We learn better and more easily when we feel comfortable in an environment that favours our preferred style(s) and facilitates the development and blending of the others. When planning your lessons consider having a balanced amount of activities which cater for the various learning styles. Have a look at  “The Spiral Approach”

Slide by Roseli Serra 

8. What kind of English should I speak? 

Children learning a foreign language often use complete phrases of language they have picked up from someone else. (...) Children may not have been taught these chunks formally, but they help them to communicate ... 

Jayne Moon 

Talk to your young learners at normal speed. Speak the English you want them to speak. Be ready to repeat, rephrase, paraphrase, make gestures, draw, give examples, ask if a peer can help,and be ready to translate a word or two if necessary. Encourage your learners to speak English as much as possible. Insist on their doing so, otherwise they never will. Teach your students chunks of classroom language to get them to start communicating in English. 

9. Working on discipline
“Children benefit from knowing the rules and being familiar with the situation.” 
Wendy Scott and Lisbeth Ytreberg 

The video below show us some of the “dont’s ". Why does the teacher behave like this? What’s the amount of STT versus TTT in this lesson? Why is that so? 

  • The teacher’s high level of anxiety. 
  • The teacher asked purposeless questions. 
  • The teacher did not allow the SS to think before answering – No waiting time The teacher’s poor response and rapport. 

So In order to run a smooth classroom, we should establish routines to give the children a good sense of order. To enforce rules consistently and always with our students’ help is a good way to have them closer to you. It’s crucial to allow them to take part in everything we do in the classroom. This will teach them commitment and responsibility. 

In the second snippet, we notice a change in the teacher’s behaviour as the teacher finds a way to maximize STT. Why? Do you believe in magic? There's no magic!

  • He admitted his mistakes 
  • He asked meaningful and open questions 
  • He paid attention to body language 
  • He tried to bridge the gap 
  • He gave them a reason to speak 

The affective side builds up the students’ confidence: 

The teacher:

  • Started to trust the student! SS know more, they can do more than people usually expect them to. Do never underestimate them! 
  • He set the student free by not allowing her to read the score. Autonomy! 

Some last tips

  • Establish a comfortable atmosphere free from stress 
  • Do not ask the obvious 
  • Make them proud – activate their previous knowledge 
  • Respect your pupils and their different styles
  • Repeat, recycle, rephrase 
  • Respect the silent moment
  • Don't be afraid of noise or silence. 
  • Take into account pupils’ concentration span 
  • Be flexible and open 

 Enjoy your teaching!