Thoughts from Learning World Workshop 2011

This past weekend was the third (and last) Learning World Workshop for this year. I attended the Osaka event. These types of events are a great place to get new ideas and think about what you are doing in your own classroom. All of the workshops were related to and using the Learning World series, but some of the ideas can be universally applied to any classroom setting.

The presenter was Matthew de Wilde and the workshops were great; he has tons of energy and lots of good ideas. I wasn’t able to see all of the workshop, but from what I saw, here are some key thoughts that I came away with. Some of them are new ways of thinking to me and some are things that I already knew but felt strongly enough to take note of. I may not have all of his ideas exactly correct, so what I am writing here is my perception of his ideas.

What is a textbook?

This is a question I have thought about before, but I’ve never quite thought about it in quite the terms that were presented. I have always talked about how a textbook is a tool that you use and build upon. It is not the only part of your course. You use a textbook as a framework and then expand upon it to make it fit your classroom needs. I still think this is true, but Matthew talked about textbooks in a different context that I hadn’t really considered before. “A textbook is a tool to bring your policy into the classroom.”

What is meant by policy? Policy is how you answer the questions: what kind of people do you want your students to become and what kind of people are going to be needed in the world when they are grown up. Because the world is changing, the problems that our kids face will be different from the problems that exist in today’s world.

Matthew’s policy, which I think is a very good one, is:

Students need to have:

  • willingness
  • strategy
  • and language

to:

  • overcome problems
  • be considerate and respectful of others
  • create and present new ideas
  • appreciate and respect differing opinions and differing ideas

Everything you do in your classroom should be based on the belief that it will fulfill your policy. In the classroom, Matthew does specific things to help fulfill his policy:

  1. Presents problems and creates a need for students to overcome them. Sometimes this includes him trying to cheat at a game (rock, scissors, paper, for example), so they have to overcome the problem and explain why they are the winner and not him. Or sometimes saying something that isn’t correct so the students have to figure out how to explain themselves.
  2. Is always considerate and respectful of others. If a student makes a mistake, you should not immediately say something like, “That’s wrong”. Consider what they are saying and why they are saying it. Their answer may not be immediately correct, but could be correct depending on how they are thinking about the problem. Also, you should never laugh at a student when they are trying. You want to encourage them to keep trying. If you laugh at them when they make a mistake, the students may lose their willingness to try. Keeping your policy in mind, having students who are willing to try is far more important than perfect English.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to create and present ideas.
  4. Put students in situation where they need to exchange opinions and ideas.

Another important distinction that is made is target and non-target language. Target language is what you are trying to teach. Non-target language is all the other language that is happening in the process of teaching/using the target language: including directions, negotiating rules and procedures. Target language is not always language that is used all the time, but non-target language is language that is used all the time. Non-target language is more important than target language. He talked about how a lot of teachers will use Japanese to explain an activity in order to start using the target language and doing the activity, but that this is not a good idea because you are missing all of the opportunities to use non-target language. I have to admit that I am definitely guilty of doing this at times and it really made me think about how I’m using Japanese in my classroom. Using English explanations in class serves two purposes: it is non-target language and it gives students a chance to work on problem solving using the English that they have (fulfilling his policy).

Matthew uses Learning World and here is what he said about why:

  • Target English is well-organized. There is a spiral so that students get the same (similar) target language in different levels throughout the series. Each level takes that target language and expands on the vocabulary and situations it can be used in.
  • Non-target English is easy to generate. The activities are set up in such a way that there is lots of opportunity to use non-target English.
  • There is a strong development of all four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
  • It promotes self-esteem and confidence.
  • The textbooks are designed in such a way that they can be used based on a students age and maturity level, versus their English level.
  • Students like the content.

A lot of the above ideas are things that I’ve known for a while, but the one that I’ve more recently come to understand is the idea of choosing a children’s textbook based more on age and maturity level than on English level. I have always been busy thinking about a combination of the two, but probably given too much weight to English level over age and maturity level. I have been reconsidering this thinking and more fully understanding this idea after this workshop and after hearing Nakamoto-sensei (the Learning World author) present at a workshop in October.

Kids learn and forget language rather quickly if they’re not using it. With the idea that non-target language is more important than target language (that can be taught and retaught from different perspectives), it really does make more sense that the maturity level of a textbook is far more important than the actual English level (to a degree, of course). It has also made me realize that I should have chosen a different level for my 5th grade class. But teaching is about constantly thinking about your students, learning from them, and adjusting your classes to fit their needs (and your class policy).

Another idea that is not new to me but that I think is important is output generates self-esteem and confidence. If kids are able to say something, anything, in English and express their ideas, it makes them feel more confident and want to try again the next time. An important part of this is that you need to let kids try to use their own English first and then give them the new language after they try. This is also important for their problem-solving skills. Instead of waiting for the answer, it teaches them to be proactive and try to find the answer.

For example, in Learning World 1 (Unit 4-2) there was a chant with some words the kids do not know. They had lots of different food cards out on a table. Here are the first three lines of the chant:

Look at the pumpkins! Big fat pumpkins!
Look at the grapes! Juicy purple grapes!
Look at the rice! Shiny white rice!

Matthew played the chant one line at a time. After the first line, he hit pause and wrote the first part “Look at the” up on the board and asked students to fill in the bold words. The words in red were words they didn’t know, so after they were written on the board, he had each student find something that was fat/juicy/shiny. They would talk about each kid’s item and why it fit or didn’t fit the word.

I made note of some other practical classroom activities. None of them are really new to me, but they are just ways of introducing playing with activities that I have forgotten about and found it fun to think about using again.

Chants: use to check memory.

  1. Play the CD.
  2. Pause just before a critical word/phrase and have the students supply it.
  3. Hit play again so the students can check themselves.
  4. Keep repeating, pausing just before an important word/phrase.

Chants: to create output.

  1. Have students look at the chant and cross out certain words together.
  2. Students write in their own ideas for the now crossed-out words.
  3. Share their ideas with the class.
  4. If you think their idea is “wrong”, talk to the student about their answer and why they think it is okay. Give them a chance to defend their answer. (Example, “My mother is taller than my dog.” The discussion of the answer ended up being if the student was holding the front paws and the dog was standing up on his hind legs…)

Chants: first time/prediction.

  1. Play the chant.
  2. Pause before a word and ask the students what they think might come next.
  3. Hit play again and pause afterwards to check what they heard.
  4. Play again and pause before another word to ask them what might come next.
  5. This is a good activity for making students try to come up with the answer themselves rather than just wait to be told the answer.

Two more practical activities that I often forget to do with my students are:

Counting syllables to help with word pronunciation.
Counting words to help with sentence building.

These are just a few of the ideas that I thought I would share from the workshop. It certainly got me thinking about what I do in the classroom and what I can do better.

The most important thing that I came away thinking about is that as an English teacher, I am not just teaching English, but I’m teaching life skills as well.

 

 


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