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'?"


"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.


No comments:

Post a Comment