יום שלישי, 11 ביולי 2017

Why bother?

Last week I attended the ETAI (English Teachers' Association of Israel) National Conference. In addition to the wide variety of lectures and workshops, we were given a chance to ask a panel, student-style, questions beginning with "Why bother". Most of us added "when..." such as "Why bother coming to a conference when we can meet online?" (short answer - the importance of face to face contact). Sometimes the most logical answer was "Don't bother", but one question really bothered me and I wish I had been able to answer -
     "Why bother having an English Day when my colleagues don't cooperate?"
Honestly, I barely see a connection between the two clauses (a word I picked up substituting in formal English classes). We don't have English Days for our colleagues, we have them for our students. English Day is a chance for students to have a positive experience in English,  and no matter what activities you choose they probably will learn something. It's a way to show them English as a spoken language and culture in a relaxed atmosphere. Whether they perform on stage, make crafts or play games, they will have achievements to remember that aren't graded.
It's unfortunate that there are teachers who aren't willing to put in the extra effort to do something special for their students, but don't let that stop you from doing your best.
Why bother teaching at all? Why bother preparing interesting activities, paying extra attention to students who are struggling as well as those who want to be challenged more, and making sure that everyone understands before you continue? If you do this to impress your colleagues, you will probably be disappointed by their reactions. But if you do everything you can to help your students, in the long run your efforts will pay off and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you made a difference.
And when your colleagues see this, they may decide in the future to join you.

יום רביעי, 8 בפברואר 2017

What can we learn from Trump? (non-political)

This is not a political post.
The sages teach us "Who is wise? He who can learn from anyone." So I'm just trying to prove how smart I am.


Another teacher asked how we can use this to teach our students something. I began to write an answer, then realized that I have enough ideas for a blog post.

  1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Many students are afraid to speak or even write because they may make a mistake. Before these students can learn anything we must create a safe atmosphere where mistakes are an acceptable and necessary part of learning. If the President of the United States can't spell but isn't afraid to send out messages that will be seen by the whole world, no one should be afraid to make mistakes in our classrooms. See what I wrote about this in my previous post What if I make a mistake? 
  2. Pretend the mistakes are intentional. Years ago, a teacher I was working with showed me a test she was about to give to her class. She suddenly realized that there were spelling errors in the text (the test had been prepared by another teacher) and she wasn't sure what to do. I suggested that she use them. Tell the class that there are some mistakes in the text, and that they will receive a bonus for each one they find. Double bonus if they know the correct spelling.
  3. Find different options. When Trump said that Ted Cruz is a chocker, did he mean joker, choker, shocker or something else? Honer is probably honor, but what else could it be?
  4. Come up with some definitions for Trump's new words. For example: unpresidented - never been done by a president, Bobby Night - a night when everyone dresses up as Bobby.
  5. Have a debate.  How important is spelling? Should spelling be a necessary qualification for public office? Has social media made spelling errors more acceptable?

Do you have any other ideas?

יום שני, 30 בינואר 2017

What are you doing for English Day?

Have you started thinking about English Day this year? Remember, a successful English Day requires creative thought and planning, and your school calendar is probably starting to fill up. So if you and the rest of the English staff haven't thought about it yet, let me help you get started.


Why should we have an English Day?
An English Day is a chance for students to have a fun, positive experience in English. No drilling, no writing in notebooks, no tests and no pressure. Just activities they enjoy along with a chance to hear and speak English in context. It's an opportunity for them to see English as something that can be fun and relevant to their daily lives.



Where should I start?
First I recommend choosing a theme. This will make it easier to choose activities and pull everything together. Themes can be simple and vocabulary-oriented such as animals or weather and seasons, or wider concepts such as around the world or protecting the environment. To build up anticipation, have each class choose an appropriate costume, prepare a poster or decorate their classroom ahead of time.


You also need to set a date and make sure it gets listed on the school calendar (lessons learned the hard way).



Kick-off

Start the day with everyone together. It's great if everyone can learn a song or chant ahead of time and sing it together. This is the time to build up group spirit and also explain what everyone is going to do for the next few hours. If classes have chosen names call them out in your best rock-star voice. Emphasize that today is going to be fun.


Activities

Each class or group should participate in 3-4 different activities. You should have at least one instructor at each station who speaks English and can lead the activity, and one leader to accompany each group. You can also have older students lead activities for younger classes, which keeps them both busy.
  • Songs - Teach a new song or sing familiar songs. Choose them according to the theme and level of the students. You could have each group learn a different song and perform them all at the end of the day.
  • Sports - Have at least one station of active games so that children have a chance to release energy. These might be kangaroo and horse races if your theme is animals, games from different countries if your theme is around the world, or throwing a ball or ring at targets marked with letters or words.
  • Group games such as charades, hangman, hot potato or a treasure hunt.
  • Crafts - It's nice if children can bring something home. The craft doesn't need to be related to English, just make sure all the instructions are in English. If you also demonstrate while you speak there's no need to translate.
  • Food - Find some simple recipes related to your theme. If cooking isn't practical there are plenty of other options. Get information about students' allergies ahead of time and have alternatives ready. Like crafts, as long as the recipe and instructions are in English they're learning English.
  • Stories - Either read a book or tell a story with pictures and props.
  • Printable games - Make sure they're fun, challenging and different from worksheets you would use in a regular lesson. If some stations are led by teachers who aren't comfortable speaking English this is a good option.
Plan and print a schedule so that everyone knows where they should be when. Review each station carefully and make sure you have all the materials you need, and that they are in place before the day begins.


What to do during the break
Don't expect students and teachers to give up all their breaks just because they're having fun. If your school has a tradition of "active breaks" you know what to do. Put on a CD with dance songs in English and set up some simple outdoor games.  You could also sell food or other items, depending on you school's policy. Remember, only English.


Bringing it to a close

At the end gather everyone together again. This is a good time to put some kids on stage. This can be a short play you've prepared ahead of time or songs they learned during the day. Go back to your rock-star voice to make sure everyone had a great time and that they want to do it again next year.


How can English is Fun help?

English days are all about making English fun, and I have a wide range of resources to offer:

יום שלישי, 6 בדצמבר 2016

From the Other Side of the Classroom

The best way to understand what it's like for your students to learn a foreign language is to learn one yourself. If you're teaching your native language, showing your students that you have made an effort to learn their language and that you speak in spite of your errors also sets an excellent example. 

It's been a long time since I struggled to learn Hebrew as a second language, so recently I began learning spoken Arabic.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful teacher who usually teaches children. Some of her methods are similar to mine, which allows me to see my lessons from the other side. 

Drilling - Reciting lists of words is boring and not very effective. Using words in sentences, or better yet in songs, is a much better way to learn and remember sentence structures. Unfortunately we don't sing many songs but I do occasionally look for them on my own. Some students have asked for printed tables of verb forms. Personally I think that constantly referring to a list would make conversation difficult, and that it's much easier to learn verbs and tenses in context.

Pronunciation - We aren't learning the Arabic alphabet. The teacher writes words on the board in Hebrew letters, but when she says them they often sound completely different from they way I would read them. We need to hear the words to learn them properly. I've begun recording more of the lessons and writing fewer words. For the same reason, I discourage my students from writing English words using Hebrew letters, and provide younger students with CDs of the songs we learn so that they can listen and review what we've learned at home.

Willingness to Communicate - In a SHELTA drama course we discussed this topic as a critical point in learning any language. Speaking a new language requires confidence, determination and an awareness of the importance of speaking, even with errors. My students often refuse to speak English because they don't know English, I remind them that they will never know English until they begin speaking. As a student, I try to speak as much Arabic as possible during class and make note of my mistakes. There are other students who have decided to just sit back and listen until they feel ready to speak. In both cases I can see how active learning is much more effective than passive learning.

Translation - Every language has unique syntax, sentence structures and expressions. Translating sentences word-for-word often results in sentences that at best are awkward and can even be embarrassing. I've been trying to explain this to my students for years as they try to understand English by translating each word into Hebrew and then putting them together, then translating their answers back to English the same way. Now I'm experiencing it from Hebrew to Arabic. I've tried to say sentences using words I know and was told that that's not the way to express the idea in Arabic. She then rearranged the sentence so that it made sense. This is called Lexical, or whole-language, learning. At least I understand this concept and didn't argue with her.

Comprehension - When our teacher speaks to us in Arabic, I listen for the words I recognize and pay attention to facial expressions and hand motions.  I've told my students for years that they can understand English even when they don't understand every word, and now I'm discovering that it's true. When students constantly ask "What does that word mean?" and then try to put everything together, they often miss the general idea.

After sitting in the student's chair, I can honestly say that what I expect from them is not only possible, it's the best way to learn.

יום שני, 19 בספטמבר 2016

What if I make a mistake?

This week two 4th grade students came to my English group for the first time. The first thing they told me was that their English isn't very good, and they asked if I would get mad if they made mistakes. I told them of course not, they're here to learn, I only get mad at children who laugh at other children's mistakes. I thought to myself how sad it is that children would even ask this question.
They had a wonderful time, responded in English during games and learned some new words. Once assured that it was okay to make mistakes they were eager to participate, and didn't want to stop when our time was up.
Why did they think I would be mad? Is that how their teachers usually react to mistakes? No wonder their English is weak. How can they be expected to improve if they're afraid to open their mouths in class?
In every classroom, whenever a teacher asks questions, there are some students who always raise their hands and some who never do. In most cases, the better students are, or think they are, at a particular subject, the more likely they are to raise their hands. But the reverse is also true, especially when teaching a language. The more students participate in class, the more their English will improve.
When I worked with groups in schools, occasionally I sat next to students in the classroom. I found that many of the weaker students, when the teacher asked a question, would ask me quietly if they had the correct answer before raising their hands. They didn't really need my help, they figured out the answers on their own, they needed my assurance that their answer was correct before saying it out loud in front of the teacher and the class. It wasn't long before these students not only gained enough confidence to participate without checking with me first, they also started doing much better in class.
We all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake is destroying someone's confidence.