Category Archives: language

#1. What is the Main Goal of EAL?

Six months ago, I wrote an article which clearly reflected how confused I was with EAL teaching and learning. As I am learning more and more about the world of EAL, I thought of sharing my insights (yes, I don’t want to sound like a textbook) about the questions I wrote in my previous blog post. I’m treating my previous blog as my ‘pre-assessment’ and my upcoming blogs as evidence of my growth as an English teacher.

dsc_0219

My Grade 2 students sharing how they could improve their English skills

My first question was: What is the main goal of EAL. Answering this, I thought that a more conceptual approach to this question is asking what is the goal of learning any language anyway? There are multiple answers to this question- we can go from the most practical to the most scholarly ones. But simply put, I have come to understand that the goal is to communicate and understand meaning.

‘Learning the meaning of things’ is not quite a simple task to do- not for the teacher, not for the student. This involves learning within a context, culture, certain expressions or words that could have multiple meanings, slang and basically understanding people’s way of life. The meaning of words and phrases develop with time, technology and even with how ‘playful’ people could be. It could be highly subjective and reveals multiple realities—this, by the way, shouldn’t be seen as a problem, but an evidence of how fascinating language could be.

So I say that learning the meaning of things requires constructivism within authentic experiences, a sense of immersion, a sense of imagination. I know a lot of teachers now are aware that language learning  requires more than the rigidity of forms, structures, grammar and skills development. However, more stress should be placed upon understanding that the essentials of language learning involve global awareness and values, such as empathy, open-mindedness and risk-taking. Therefore, as a language teacher, the goal is to help my students use language (in any form) to adapt to both typical and unique situations, to express, to understand, and most of all, to belong. I didn’t really expect that I’d end up with a ‘world peace’ kind of answer to this question, but in retrospect, much of the hostility in the world do stem from miscommunication.

So I say, strive for meaning and, the rest will follow. And if we value perspective in our classrooms, our students will come to realise that learning any language will help them see the world differently. Then, the ABC’s will never be the same.

‘A different language is a different vision of life.’ – Federico Fellini

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under EAL, language

EAL and Inquiries

For the past 6 months, I have been working as an EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher in an IB PYP school for grades 1, 2 and 3. As a former PYP Homeroom teacher for 6 years in two different countries, I would naturally source inspiration, ideals and strategies from what I know: the inquiry approach.

However, what I know may not always meet the needs of my EAL students.  I remember I was hired to ‘bring inquiry’ in EAL, which I was extremely excited about. It is something very new to me and I was excited to help my students make connections, ask questions, find out for answers, and ultimately help them learn English. Doesn’t that sound exciting? It did, still does, but it is confusing. How does inquiry actually look like in an EAL class? How effective is inquiry in an EAL class?

This article is an honest sharing about what I am currently going through as a PYP and EAL teacher, thoughts about the workshop approach for EAL learners, and the questions that I have. If you’re going through the same thing, then I’d love to ponder and share this journey with you.

Reading and Writing Workshop Approach

I LOVE the reading and writing workshop approach to learning a language. It gives the students a practical context for learning. It also gives them the opportunity to learn reading and writing like experts. According to Peha (2003 p.3), ‘The idea behind Writer’s Workshop is simple: if we know from experience that a workshop approach to the teaching of writing works well for aspiring profes-sional writers, why shouldn’t we use this approach in our classrooms? As in a professional writer’s workshop, each student in the class is a working author.’

In reading and writing worskhops, there is a focus on integration, the learning process and ‘what good writers and readers do’. Some models may focus on text type or genre based exploration as contexts. Frost’s (2015) online article called ‘How Do We Plan Language on a PYP Planner?’ gives a step by step guide to PYP language planning, which reflects the inquiry and workshop approach. To me, it is fundamentally the kind of language teaching and learning that makes sense.

Short Story about the Grade 2 Class

Before I move on, it is critical to share that most of my students in Grades 1, 2 and 3 have low level English. Further, we are in an almost zero English environment. I occassionally work with teaching assistants who do some translations for me. Therefore, across the learning process, we ask the students to find out the meaning of some English key words through the use of dictionaries and/or by asking their parents/adults.

For our 3rd unit, the Grade 2 class explored ‘Stories and Imagination’ in UOI. As you might have guessed, we did a 5-week language unit on stories. We had daily read alouds and story telling from both the teachers and students. We observed Oxford Stages 1 and 1+ big picture books and learned about elements of stories. We read different Oxford leveled reading books, which helped us inquire about the structure of stories and develop reading strategies. We used a story mountain to show what is happening in the beginning, middle and end of short stories. Then, we focused on learning about what sentences and phrases are, what is a subject and predicate and the simple past tense , as these languge features are applied in simple story books. As you can imagine, this language focus part took a lot of time.

On the 4th and 5th week, all students engaged in the writing process and attempted to publish their books. Some students attempted to put words to retell a story of a picture book, while some were more willing to write their own stories in English. The students read aloud their creation! They seemed highly engaged in the process and were very proud of their books. We placed all our books in the library for other students to read. There was a clear integration, there was transdisciplinary learning and it was communicative. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was rewarding and fulfilling.

Despite the success I felt, I did get a feedback that this approach may not be the best match for EAL learners. Further, I received a feedback that the IB English Scope and Sequence may not be necessarily designed/appropriate for non-English speakers. How true is this? I respect that persepctive and I am open minded to do what works best for my EAL students. We are after all, student-centered teachers.

Hence, I do have a couple of essential questions, considering that I lack EAL/ESL practice and experience:

  1. What is the main goal of EAL teaching?
  2. How do the the IB PYP strands and inquiry help achieve this goal?
  3. How does inquiry look like in an EAL class?
  4. Is the workshop approach the best model for EAL students?
  5. What is a more important focus as a context: genre, text-type or a real life interaction context (buying from a market, visiting a friends’ house, asking for directions)
  6. How much grammar and workbook activities are ‘necessary’? When does it come in and how does book-based practice impact EAL learning?
  7. What does careful EAL unit planning look like? How do I help my students develop their English language communication skills the best way possible, considering that they don’t speak English outside the EAL classes?

All in all, what I understand so far is that a school and its environment need to have a solid vision towards language learning, especially if there is a pressure for our students and teachers to achieve good English proficiency. Without that direction, it can obviously very confusing for teachers like me.

Despite ongoing disucussions and debates I’m experiencing, I still do believe that EAL can be learned in a meaningful and inquiry way. It may look different from my previous classrooms, but there are many elements of inquiry-based teaching that are conceptual and trasnferrable, like giving students voice and choice and finding out about student’s questions. They may not have the perfect English to express themselves, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t think, nor make connections, nor develop skills to help them learn about, through and the language.

Your thoughts?  Help.

Reference:

Peha, S., 2003. Welcome to writer’s workshop [Online]. Available from: http:// http://www.ttms.org [Accessed March 21, 2016].

Forst, C., 2015. How do we plan language on a pyp planner? [Online]. Available from: http://christopherfrost.weebly.com/blog/how-do-we-plan-language-on-a-pyp-planner [Accessed March 21, 2016]

Helpful websites:

What Ed Said/Language: https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/tag/language/

EFL-ESL Blogs Worth Following: http://www.scoop.it/t/efl-esl-blogs-worth-following

Leave a comment

Filed under EAL, language

True Friendship with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B White with my class will always be a class favorite.  It’s my second year to read the book with my students and it still makes me feel so emotional (as if I’m reading it for the very first time).  I cry inside…over a pig and a silent-martyr spider.  This book is an excellent reminder of what true friendship is all about.

Charlotte

As we went through our Literature Circle discussions, the students learned different reading strategies and had mini-lessons about the elements of a story.  We also learned about different Literature Circle roles, which helped the students analyze the chapters in a fun way.  Of course, there were some students who were not very interested in reading but the roles helped them become accountable for their reading journey as they know that they had important parts to play during the small group discussions.  There was that collective-unifying feeling during our Literature Circle sessions that encouraged everyone to read.

Some thoughts from my students:

‘It’s not only what your friends do for you, it’s how good you are to your friends… Literature Circle help us feel the book (feel emotional).  We can have a mental image of what’s happening.’-  Noella

‘I learned that friendship is really important in life because Wilbur and Charlotte helped each other in matters of life and death…I have many questions that were not answered but after (I became) the passage picker, I understood the passages better.’ –  Archit

‘The most important thing that the book taught me is that friends will come and go…I learnt that since we have been reading Charlotte’s Web, it has given me an idea that reading is fun.’ –  Raven

‘True friends are really rare.  Friends just come and go.  True friends can teach you things of great value and you can help them too. True friends remain and keep a bond.’ -Anjolie

‘I liked the book because it was very interesting and fun.  Also because when one problem was solved, another would come and it would become more interesting.’ –  Valmik

‘True friendship (can happen) even if we are alike or different, like Charlotte and Wilbur’s friendship is very true.  I have learned to identify important words in a paragraph (vocabulary words).’ – Rehan

‘I give this book 5 stars because I think it really deserves it.  It has made me interested and engrossed and I had lots of fun reading it.  In the end it was a little emotional.’ –  Sankhya

‘You can care about people and animals who are not perfect, like Wilbur, he’s a runt.  I learned to use expression when reading…I learned how to write a summary.’ –  Rohan

After we read the book, the students suggested to watch the film (directed by Gary Winick).  The curiosity of whether the movie depicted the story like how they did gave me an insight about how the book impacted their thinking and interest.  True enough, as we watched the film, they were predicting the next scenes, noting scenes which are not in the book and shared things they were surprised about (like how they imagined the characters before watching the film).  They were delighted to see the characters and the story come to life, not only in their imagination but in the film as well.

We ended the unit by creating individual Charlotte’s Web projects.  The students shared their understanding of the book through their chosen products (book calendar, diary, accordion books, etc.)  This eventually led us to decorating our library with the purpose of encouraging other students to read the book as well.

DSC_1089 (800x550) DSC_1127 (800x590) DSC_1131 (800x591)  DSC_1219 (800x591) DSC_1220 (800x600) DSC_1222 (800x600) DSC_1223 (800x582) DSC_1224 (800x581)

I’m very confident to say that the students thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and will never, ever, forget the story, the lessons that came with it and the journey shared with their…friends.

DSC_1216 (800x599)

Leave a comment

Filed under language

Math and Stories

We recently finished our Language Unit on Stories so my partner and I thought that it will be interesting to integrate stories with our Maths unit on Division.  We thought of tuning in our students into word problems by asking them to write simple division stories (with clues).  We wanted to see the language they’ll use, their understanding of the concept and we wanted to see how they’ll strategize and translate the concept into word problems or stories.  I’ve known about this engagement before, but this is the first time I’m tried it out.

This simple engagement brought about so much more than I expected.  I was amazed to witness how this engagement encouraged creativity and other skills like resolving conflict.  Though they were all given same clues (winning 175 tickets) yet they all came up with different stories that reflected how they handle problems.   Their stories also reflected how they see the world, their likes and dislikes.

This was something I and the kids truly enjoyed.  It inspired me to be more creative in planning Maths engagements, to give more open-ended tasks and to never underestimate what the kids can come up with!

(Stories unedited)

20131007_201713

“One day four children named Alisha, Shub, Geronimo and Mudra went to the amusement park.  In the bowling game, they earned 175 tickets.  In the mean time, Mudra started to fight and then everbody started because they didn’t get equal tickets.  When they were fighting Geronimo got an idea that they should divide the tickets.  They divided 175÷4.  They got the quotient 43.  They remainder they got was 3.  Each got 43 but they got three extra and there were 4 kids.  So they teared the tickets and lived happily ever. The end”  –  Shub and Alisha

20131007_201728

“One day, Malvika, Alisha and Vedangi went to the amusement partk just for fun.  First they played the bowling game and won 175 tickets but they did not know how to divide the tickets.  After awhile, we saw Ms. Katrina teaching Rishi division, so we three went there and asked Ms. Katrina to explain us division too.  Ms. Katrina said, “In division we have to make groups of equal amount and it is also called as repeated subtraction.”  Vedangi asked Ms. Katrina, “Ma’m how to divide amongst us?”  So, Ms. Katrina took out a paper and pens from her bag and solved the problem on the paper and showed us how to divide. So last only 1 ticket left so Malvika said now who can get the last ticket?  We all started thinking who can get the last ticket so Alisha said “Maybe we can give to Rishi.”  – Vedangi and Malavika

20131007_201747

“One day Tanav and Rishi decided to go to Karla Phoenix Market city, Timezone.  We called Vir, Chahit and JK with us to Timezone.  All of us won a lot of tickets.  When they were about to go and take a gift, they started to fight and all of them were telling, ‘This is mine!” We were keep on fighting.  Between our fight Tanav got an idea of dividing the tickets amongst us.  175 ÷ 5=35.  All of us got equal tickets and each of us got 35 tickets.  All of us played bowling.  We wen to the gift counter and bought our gifts.  We all went to our homes.  We played with our gifts.  We never fought again and if this situation occurs again then we will use division.  Thank you for listening to our story. ” –Tanav and Rishi

20131007_201819

“Me and my three friends went to the bowling alley in the amusement park and earned 175 tickets.  But we were fighting for the three tickets left after distributing.  Tanav said that the leader gets the remaining tickets, but Ramu didn’t agree.  Ramu advised that they should use the three tickets for everybody’s like on a game that costs 3 tickets they can buy it and all the four will own the game.”  –Devajna and Arnav

20131007_201832

“Derek, Arjun, Shivank and Vir went to the amusement park and earned 175 tickets in the bowling game.  The problem was that they had to divide the tickets equally among themselves.  They tried many ways to divide equally but they could not.  To find out how many tickets each person needs they have to divide 175 with 4.  Derek told Arjun, Shivank and Vir that to find out how many tickets, you have to use a technique called long division.  Arjun asked Derek how long division is done.  Derek said that he does not know long division but he can ask someone.  They saw a man and they asked him “What is 175÷4.  “He said 43.”  Then they thanked him and divided the tickets but 3 were left so they gave them to the man who helped them.” –  Shivank and Arjun

2 Comments

Filed under collaboration, language, learning strategies, maths

Read aloud with a Twist!

Image

Last March 6, we celebrated the World’s Read Aloud Day with a twist!  My class celebrated it by reading aloud the Indian folktale “How the Summer Queen Came to Kashmir” to a Grade 4 class from an international school in Hong Kong.  The read aloud was done through Skype.  We thought that by reading aloud the said tale, it will help students from Hong Kong know more about the rich culture and places of India.  The other class read aloud poems from the book called Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman.  We had a great time listening to the poems as they read it creatively.

It is the first time that my class had this engagement.  There were challenges like communication, arranging the schedule and the quality of the internet connection.  In the actual read aloud, it was hard to hear and understand each other, but somehow we got through the event smoothly.  Everyone seemed to enjoy, especially the part when my students and the other class were given the opportunity to say hi to each other.  I think in away, my class was amazed seeing other kids from another part of the world.

What I love the most about the engagement is that first of all, it promoted global mindedness by taking part on an event that is celebrated worldwide.  Tanja Galleti, a primary Librarian from an international school in Hong Kong, just twitted about the event.  I replied back as I was interested with it.  She had this wonderful idea of reading aloud through Skype, and I thought that was a good opportunity for my class.  Without her help and initiative, this event would have not been possible.  She was the one who arranged the schedule between me and Andrea Onken, the Grade 4 teacher from Hong Kong, despite her busy schedule.  Of course, much thanks to Andrea as well, as she was also open to do the read aloud with my class.  With this simple interactive activity, we know that we have encouraged reading around the world.

Image

Secondly, I like that we showed that education is border-less.  In that simple 30 minutes read aloud from both classes, my class learned how to observe and listen, how to model certain behaviour from other students from a different country, and how to use technology to help us learn.  That simple 30 minutes was an opportunity for my students to be communicators, to be open-minded, and a chance to develop self-management skills.  That simple 30 minutes gave us the opportunity to have new friends.

Thirdly, I like how the three of us- Tanja, Andrea and I- were all strangers to each other, yet are united by the same aim and love for collaboration, technology and a global approach to learning.  I don’t know them personally, and I’ve never even worked with them before, but this certainly showed that when there is a goal, openness and some sense of familiarity, strangers can be great company.  Thank you Tanja, Andrea and your wonderful students.  More and more educators are collaborating on-line and I believe that this is one of the best practices a teacher could ever take advantage of.  So thank you for all the selfless teachers out there who keep on sharing and sharing and sharing!  It’s a small world after all, and there is this simple girl in India who highly appreciates you all.

Like what I said, simple as the engagement may be, it brought things that are essential to teaching and learning.  Simple effort like this gives an opportunity for us and our students to be internationally minded.  I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again.

Leave a comment

Filed under action, collaboration, global classroom, language, learning strategies, Uncategorized

What Charlotte Taught Us: On Reading, Strategies and IB Learner Profile & Attitudes

At last! After 2 months, we have finished our adventure with Charlotte, Wilbur and the rest of the barn.  As this was our first time to run the Literature Circle, I didn’t really expect much from the students.  Feedback time and I, again, was surprised by my young readers.

My grade 4 shared that the Literature Circle helped them to gain friends and to be open-minded to what others have to share.  They learned how to encourage themselves and each other.  They said that to make our discussions better, the class should show more cooperation, open-mindedness and independence. They added that it helped them be more enthusiastic and committed to reading.

What we have learned from the book:  Love, friendship and so much more!

20130228_153452

“That even if you’re very small like a spider or an ant, you can save someone’s life…”

20130228_153750

“I understand that in life anything can happen…like a spider and a pig can be friends…so even a human can be a dog’s friend.  Whenever I see someone fighting, I’ll stop them and say you are friends…”

20130228_153649

“It’s all about loyalty, faith and friendship.  Sometimes I feel like Wilbur…because I also, like him, feel very lonely at times…”

What we learned about reading:  Before and Now…

20130228_153525

“I used to think that reading is just for fun…but now I think reading is something you can learn from…”

20130228_153546

“…every book has adventure, mystery and suspense.”

20130228_153604

“…I used to think that you read because you can say ‘…I’m better than you.’  But now when Literature Circle started, I realized that if you don’t read, you’re lost and you don’t know what to do…”

20130228_163556

“I used to think that reading is just reading…reading is not only reading, it is something that the author is trying to share…”

20130228_164412

“…Now I think reading is not just for fun, but to help us understand life…”

Reading Strategies that Work!

20130228_153731v1

“…reading with expression because if we read with expressions, we know the character more and what it is feeling…keeping a routine of reading.”

20130228_153900

“…I could talk with the characters and they would talk back to me again after a minute…my post it strategy helped and re-reading, stop and review and last but not the least predicting my favorite…”

On IB Learner Profile and Attitudes…

20130228_153625

“…respect and enthusiasm are the main…”

20130228_153829

“…confidence that I can finish the book…open-minded to myself for difficult words because I get irritated very fast.”

20130228_164227

“The attitude integrity because in the book the characters were telling words like sorry, thank you…”

20130228_164805

“…risk-taker by reading some hard words…empathy and commitment by reminding myself to read…”

I feel very happy and fulfilled as a teacher that there were changes in how my students view reading. The Literature Circle helped them with their attitude, not only with reading, but toward themselves and others.  I think I’m most proud that they opened their little world to a book that they never knew can make an impact to their learning.  They opened their little world to others, and took risks to be in a world that they can still further explore.

And now, one thing’s for sure- we are all very excited for our next set of books!  Hooraay!

Leave a comment

Filed under language, learning strategies, reflection

Literature Circle: A fun and surprising journey

Image

“Hot Seat”

Our Literature Circle journey continuous to be fun and surprising.  It’s a slow but sure process for all of us.  It is definitely a fun and meaningful way to learn reading!

The Beginning

For our first try, we started with one book- Charlotte’s Web, as all of them have purchased the books already. My purpose really is to introduce them to the routine, which included making reading as a habit, sharing of ideas and applying strategies to help us read.  Of course, I expected the first month to be challenging, but I know it will be a meaningful learning process for everyone.

Our major challenges were:  a) managing schedule, b)   adjusting to the routine, c) motivating each other to read and accomplish our assigned tasks,  d) being open with each other in sharing our ideas.

What did not work:  a)  making the routine, literally just a routine (it’s good to give something fresh to the students, like a new engagement we can do as a class, and not just in groups),  b)  failing to follow up with the students on their discussions and over all experience, c) not asking feedback from the students.

What worked:  a) collaborating the schedule and making sure that there is balance (stand alone, integration with the unit, literature circle time), b) trying to do things consistently, following the agreed schedule and consistently encouraging each other, c) students agree on their group goals and tasks,  d)  consistent conference with each group with clear expectations.

Image

The Egg Sac

The Egg Sac is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  At the beginning of the story, Charlotte introduced the wonders and strengths of a spider, but in this chapter, she started to reveal all her worries, her fragile side, and how she still struggles to be strong.  I can’t help but feel emotional about it, simply because this is a feeling I am able to relate to and understand.  During a discussion with a group of 5 students, they shared that Charlotte reminded them of the pain of their mothers- how their mothers try their best to help them, do as much things as they can to support them with their needs.  But it didn’t end there. They shared more intimate stories about their families, which I didn’t really expect to hear from them.  They shared about their cousins and specific hardships their families went through, the times when some of their family members were hospitalized, their feelings for them.  I felt some of them were even surprised about how honest they were with each other.  But that moment really helped all of us to relate with the book, to understand how we are all connected.  We further talked about the worries of Charlotte and I asked them to make connections by sharing their own worries.  While I was expecting to hear worries about school tasks and not being able to get the toys they want, they did share that sometimes they worry about death and the unknown.  What would happen to them, how scary it must be not to know what will happen next, the uncertainties of life.  Wow!  I thought this was pretty deep for my kids.  I had one of the best conversations of my life.

This Lit Circle discussion was one of the best I had so far.  It took time for my students to open up and appreciate the story, but I saw how they developed to be young readers.  They are learning to understand the characters in a deeper sense, showing some sense of empathy because they themselves know how the characters feel.  It didn’t just help them become readers.  It also helped them become risk-takers, communicators, open-minded and empathic.

Their success is my success

Right now, I feel successful because I can see that most of my students are aware of the different reading strategies that work for them.  We also have our class favorites such as making connections, comparing characters, hot seat, readers’ theater and visualization as reading strategies and engagements.  I feel successful because I see my students feel good about reading, because they can share their thoughts about what they’re reading, because deep down inside they have a story to tell.

What I’ve learned from the experience is that we can’t force children to read.  What we can do is show them that reading is fun and meaningful by giving them the opportunity to read.  By helping them read and by helping them feel that they shouldn’t feel pressured if they don’t read the same way as the others.  That reading will give them a sense of belonging and they’re not just merely a book of words that we decode. That reading is not just a tool to make them smarter, but a way to help them understand ourselves, others and the world.

So, how are you like Charlotte?  And how are you helping your students realize this?

Leave a comment

Filed under language, learning strategies, Uncategorized