25/09/2018

CHILDREN'S POINT OF VIEW

I know I promised you the cake of the PBA. But before serving it to you, I would just like to pinpoint, again, what the essential layers of the PBA cake are. I strongly believe that, if you don't put the ingredients in the right combination it may well happen you end up with a fake cake.

The combination of the ingredients is right when children understand what you're saying, are engaged in the activity, and are able to use the knowledge.


An adult's and a child's concept of the world (point of view)


Reading the posts on different social-media as well as attending different workshops around Europe had lead me to understand, that most of the practice of teaching English to young learners has a 'crumb-like' approach. Lots of brilliant ideas for one lesson but with no clear long-term language aim in view. The activities' focus is most often on culminating isolated vocabulary, like a little bit of 'clothes' here and a little bit of 'colours' there, and then some 'toys' and 'food' ... 




It is the way how adults see the language learning: once there are enough words, we introduce some grammar and then we assume children will be able to put everything together into sentences, texts, poems ... 

The practice (and the results from Slovenian national examinations in English) has shown children have difficulties understanding and writing texts since the focus of teaching is predominantly on memorising isolated words (or chunk of words) without a context, and learning grammar rules by heart. This way children learn the language for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of using it.

On the other hand, the school test-grades are often excellent, especially when they evaluate enumerating vocabulary and the grammar rules.

Is enumerating words really the essence of the language?  

I believe that language is about exchanging information. People use the language to pass the information on and receive (understand) it. 

Most think that young children are still too young to learn the use of a foreign language ... (The general belief is that the only thing they can learn is the words and songs.)

I disagree.

With young learners, the language is not about learning it. It's about using it.

Children already have the concept of using the language in them. It's an innate ability. It's engraved in their brains as Steven Pinker describes it in his book 'Language Instinct'. What we need is to introduce another language in a way that resonates with children's way of seeing the world.

Children have no experience as to how to be an adult, how to think as an adult. But the adults can make a step towards children and bring our analytical world closer to children's where everything is connected (emotions, intellect, the world) and based on human interaction.


Why do children use a language?


To socialise.

Let's have a look at an example:




'A girl sees a boy on the beach and wants to play with him. She does that even though the language barrier is present. Each speaks their own language and they somehow manage to go about. But if they knew a little bit of one common language they could use it. If the girl was to enumerate all the clothing items she knew, or different shades of colours, or starting counting ... Well, the boy may think she's nuts."  

When children learn their mother tongue; do we give them coursebooks or do we talk to them? 

When we talk to them, do we do it by topics or do we use the language in different live-situations, mixing everything together? Do we, maybe, read children some books?

True, conditions for a foreign language learning aren't the same, but the learning process can be. Or at least we can try to make the conditions as close to the natural as possible.

Children know the concept of sentences in their mother tongue. They know what the language is used for. The learning process with these young souls should, therefore, involve the part, where the adults present children how the words are used to become functional. 

And that is the real cake of the PBA. The communication!





What do children need to communicate?


The greatest challenge in my many years of teaching English to young children has been to find a coursebook that would be ‘the right one’ for the young learner (age 4-11). No matter how many coursebooks I tried, none of them did justice to the task. Not that there was anything wrong with the coursebooks; they were good quality and topic-divided. However, the simple fact that the child becomes bored too quickly with a coursebook should be alarming enough that something is not quite right.

To motivate children, the teachers apply themselves to different strategies, but mostly focusing on finding new games in hope to engage children for at least a couple of minutes before focusing back on the coursebook.

In one of my workshops, Maja F., a clever teacher once commented. 


"I know my children don't need books. But I need one."

Maja, thank you. That's the million-dollar answer.

Children don’t need coursebooks. Teachers do.

Children need action, developing social skills and learn how to communicate. And they can only achieve that through their active involvement and peer interaction.




What teachers need is the knowledge as to how to do it. A book with instructions could come in handy here ... 

(One day, I promise ... until then, there's my blog. And my workshops.)

So, what's that a big deal with the PBA?


Children learn the language, not just words. Children communicate, not just report. Children are engaged with their peers, they do not just colour and circle and connect and ... whatnot. Children live their learning, want to talk, not just obey what they are told and produce a list of memorised words.

With the PBA, by the age of ten, children understand oral instructions, read authentic children books meant for native speakers, discern information/words from the text, orally present a known topic, write a pre-structured text, and are tenses-time-oriented. By the age of 11, they comprehend grammar tenses and use them in communication.


What's the trick?


The PBA approach focusses on the key-strengths of children’s learning abilities. In the children’s world, everything is connected, and everything has to make sense. Their natural way of learning is through games where they can socialise.

Equally important is the awareness of their limitations due to their developmental stage. Children’s brains, up to the age of eleven, cannot yet comprehend analytically and they do not understand the concept of value. If we want to engage them, they need to see the meaning in what they are doing there and then.

The awareness of both, limitations and strengths, has led me to find an alternative way of young foreign language learning, oriented to the basic purpose of the language – exchanging information.

As we said before, children don’t need books, teachers do.

Instead of a coursebook for the child, there is the PBA; a well-structured framework with the fixed aim-oriented steps for the teacher. In those steps, the activities are organised to address children’s strengths and at the same time stimulate their limitations in such a way to gradually turn them into strengths.

In other words, the language is used in a context (topic-mixed instead of topic-divided), which is natural to the child's concept of the world. Through the activities, which have all the elements of the game (so-called serious games), children
interact with their peers, and thus they become engaged. The topic-mixed approach nets the pieces of information in a context and the activities suddenly make sense for a child. Netting information also leads to better memorisation.

It’s not so much about the selection of the activities (because all the activities can be good) but rather how the activities are organised to address the children’s point of view and their need to socialise (in the sense of understanding as well as seeing the meaning in it).

NATURAL, ENGAGING and NETTING are therefore the key dimensions which, when in synergy, enable the young language-learning its original purpose – communication.

The practice has shown that with the PBA children achieve better language and social skills in comparison to the traditional, topic-based approach delivered through a coursebook.

All the steps of the PBA are covered in the 3day workshop called Playing Games Is a Serious Business.

The point of view


Which question do you ask yourself when being at the point of introducing something new to your pupils?

"What story do I need to introduce the topic 'food'?"

or

"Which topics can I tailor from the story ....?"


Poster (mind map) made from the story Oliver Finds His Way by Denise Root (by Z. F.)


The first one leads to the traditional, topic-divided approach, the second to the project-based approach.

In October 2018, an FB group of teachers who practice the project-based approach started their little correspondence. We are gathered to support ourselves with understanding the child's point of view and tailoring our teaching accordingly.


If you would like to practice the project-based approach and are willing to take an active part in those discussions, you're welcome to join us. Read what the group is about and then answer a few questions to tell us something about your way of teaching.


Wish you a lovely day.

Mija



10/09/2018

WHAT HAVE KANT AND LANGUAGE LEARNING IN COMMON?

Nothing.

Or so I thought.

Well, according to Mark Manson's post on Kant's One rule for life, whatever you do, it all comes down to one simple rule: Humans have only one obligation in their lives, and that is self-improvement




Right!

Teachers teach others, but they also should improve themselves. In other words, not only we convey knowledge to others, but if we want to do our job well, we have to continuously 'up-date' knowledge for ourselves. 

That way, and only that way, we can become good teachers. 

Far fetched? 

I don't think so. Let's see ...

Mrs X teaches young children English. She is satisfied with her acquired knowledge. She has, after all, the required academic degree. So, she's a good teacher. 

The kids in her class behave well: they sit and listen and do whatever they're told to. They're not very much interested in language; they don't ask questions but produce the required answers! If they don't, they get some extra work for home to practice.

Mrs X has a principal, and he knows his job well. He knows what is best for the teachers. He is always right. What he says is the law. After all, his job is to lead the school, isn't it? But, if you say something against his way of thinking or if you ask him why ... Well, Mrs X learnt well it is always better to be silent and to obey.



Admit it! You wanted her dead more than Voldemort!


As Kant says, we humans too often treat other humans as a means to an end. Both Mrs X and the principal did that.  

Really? How is that possible? Both of them just did their job! What they were asked to do! To teach children and to lead the school.


The principal used to listen to the staff's ideas, but they were so many, and he couldn't meet all their needs.


Mrs X used to play games with her pupils because someone told her it's good for them. And they had fun and learnt a lot. But they are at school now, and some parents (and the teachers from the neighbouring classrooms) asked some (embarrassing) questions and gave some remarks:

  • Why do you always play games?
  • This is the school, be serious!
  • How can you learn if you don't use books? 
  • I can't help my child at all, because I don't know what you're doing? 

They were both anxious. What were they supposed to do?



The easy response (no effort needed)


Mrs X doesn't have the answer to those questions and remarks. She is anxious and self-conscious. (But she would much rather feel good.) 

The easiest way is to prevent such questions. 

She changes her way of teaching to silence the parents and the teachers alike. She gives children books, and they start executing the exercises from the book. It's true, children become less interested in the language and are not motivated, but at least she knows how to assert her authority over the class through strict discipline. 

And those complaining parents are satisfied.

And the teachers don't comment.

And she feels good. 


She used the children as the means (tools) to her aim (feel good).

But, darn life! Some other parents have noticed this sudden change and don't like it, because their children liked playing games and having fun. Some even say she is not a good teacher!

Mrs X becomes anxious ... again ... and angry. Outraged even. 


'Who on earth do they think they are?! She spends the whole day with their! children, she teaches them, she works nights to prepare all the material for lessons, she did what parents wanted ... and this is how they treat her now?!'

It's even worse if there is a teacher who says that she should have continued playing games! That books are not necessary! What an abomination to teachers' society! Teachers should stick together! Support each other! 

(Mrs X probably thinks that support means to agree with everything she does. That would be the mindset of stage 1 in one person's life called mimicry.)


Well, Mark Manson would also have a lot to say about how feeling good is overrated, and that feelings are merely your road signs where and when to turn the path in your life, that happiness (feeling good) is the process and not the end game. 


Painful to hear, but Mrs X will never feel good. 

Whatever she does, whoever she pleases, there's always somebody else who disagrees ... The only way she knows how to turn anxiousness into feeling good is to please those who have made her anxious. 

She can't make everyone happy, can she? 


The self-improvement response (some effort needed)


On the other hand, if Mrs X follows Kant's rule, she would need to improve herself to be able to give the answers. (After all, the parents and the teachers only expressed the doubt or their opinion. Which is their right, isn't it?)

Let's say she follows Kant's rule.

Mrs X acknowledges that human beings are not to be treated as the means. In other words, her personal feelings should not be the end game. Since she is a teacher, her end game is making sure for children to acquire some knowledge. (But she would like to feel good, too. Don't we all?!)

So, when those comments started falling; you always play games and don't use books, and how a parent could not help his child, she should have used her anxiety as information; she lacks the knowledge to give the answer. She should improve herself

Mrs X delves deep into developmental psychology (Marjanovič-Umek) and learns that the only way children can learn is through games and through interaction with peers. She learns about 'serious games' and comes across the information that children's brains can't put bits of random information into a context, they need to be given one (the big picture). She also learns that the path to long-lasting learning is through netting pieces of information into a context (and with some repetition). 

She realises that playing games is a very serious business for children up to the age of 12. They're repeating (using) language (not just words!) in action millions of times, they socialise, and they are enjoying themselves. It's simply their way.



There are different types of serious games. Not all have the same aims.


What's with books then? 

They provide only pieces of information (topic related words) shattered through unconnected topics. Mrs X may well play games with children, occasionally, but there's not enough time for playing serious games for children need to execute the exercises in the books (colouring, copying words, connecting pictures with words while sitting and minding their business ignorant of their peers).

At the age of 5-7, it takes ages for children to take the books out, find all the caboodle for drawing and writing, and at the end of the lesson, they only manage to connect three words with three pictures. Where's the repetition then?! 


Yup. It's usually like that ... the parents have to be there, to help them read ...
Why do they go to school then?
Why do we need teachers for?


Topic-based learning is useful if you practice memorising words (isolated items). But to use the language? Words are useless if not used in conversation. And a conversation is much more than just producing isolated words ...

Mrs X also believes that at this early age, learning at school should be enough. At home, children should relax and spent time with their parents, telling them about all the things that happened at school. (Should the need for home-work arise, she will let the parents know.)


Mrs X had spent a lot of time educating herself, and she bettered herself. She explained her work to the parents, and they thanked her for the explanation. 

Children are still motivated and enjoy her lessons.

She is respected by the parents.

She feels good.


But, darn life! There is one remaining parent who still thinks that cumulating words is the only way the language should be learnt. That very parent keeps coming to her parent-teacher meetings.
(And her colleagues; some of them are very aggressive towards her work.)

Her anxiety is back, but her self-improvement process gave her confidence and knowledge to know well that she does her job well.

With this parent (and some of the colleagues) ... well ... it's just a shit sandwich she will have to eat. Every profession has at least one.

She also read Mark Manson's counterintuitive approach to living a good life ... and is her favourite book.


About asking questions





Thinking back on my life I realised I learnt most from those who doubted me, who questioned my statements.  

At first, I was afraid of being wrong or not knowing. (I still do, sometimes. But I'm still learning ...I'm not a Buddha yet.

When in doubt, this is what helps me:

'Holy fluff! I have never thought of that! Thank you for your remark!'

(Don't you think children would like to hear something like that from a teacher, too?)


In theory, I know well: 


Being wrong is not a sin. It's an opportunity to act upon correcting it. It's only a sin when you start justifying your wrongness.


And then there's always this well-known dilemma:






Welcome everyone to the school year 2018/19. 

Will be in touch.

If you are interested in C00lSch00l workshops, where we discover what a big picture is, how children can play serious games, socialise, and to learn all about how to connect the activities with the desired aims,

the dates are now out. Check them out!


Have a lovely day,

Mija