Tweaking my young learner teaching

I start my PGCEi next month. I’m really looking forward to having an extra reason to reflect on my classroom practice, overall approach, etc, and delving into research about how children learn and develop.

I’m focusing on primary level learners during the course. I have experience teaching ‘upper’ primary age groups (aged 9-11), but I’d love to learn more about teaching younger primary learners. I felt a bit out of my comfort zone teaching younger learners during the CELTA YL extension course a few years ago. With this in mind, the PGCEi is a perfect opportunity to gain more experience and understanding of YL teaching and child development.

I’ve already started thinking about some of my areas for development as a teacher of young learners. I’m lucky, because my partner is a foundation stage / primary level teacher at a very good international school – I have a mentor already! She offers great advice, which often includes something practical I can try out in class.

Here are some examples. These probably sound straightforward if you’re an experienced YL teacher, but hey, I’m learning…

Better success criteria

This is something I tried out this weekend – actually it was in my teen classes (ages 12-17, a big range!). I use a lot of checklists for success criteria when we do written/project work. We use these for self- and peer-assessment too. I try to make sure that with written work the learners can show me their examples of the success criteria. I normally get them to colour-code or mark their work with symbols to show me where they have included target language/features etc. Here’s an example from my primary class, and here’s one from my teen class.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s often me deciding the success criteria. I know why I do this – at lower levels it makes things very clear, it saves time too. However, it assumes very little of my learners – they should be able to identify or decide the success criteria themselves. My bad. I’ve done things this way before, and it met with stunned silence (in a teen class), so I need to get better at this.

The teens are doing a module on presenting data / research / etc. I had plenty of examples of posters for presentation from last year’s classes. I picked out the best ones, put them on the table as WAGOLLs (What A Good One Looks Like), and elicited the success criteria based on them.

Yes, it sounds simple. Yes, I’ve done something similar before. Yes, I’ve got lazy with this technique. It is far more effective than just giving learners a checklist, it gives them more ownership of the task. Why did I stop using it? I think it was the silence – but Think-Pair-Share solved that one. So, next up I’ve got to try this with the primary learners…

A record of verbal feedback

I was discussing written feedback with my partner last week. At the end of a task, we shove a sticker on students work, explaining ‘I liked… blah blah, Next time… blah blah’. She suggested in the grand scheme of things that written feedback like this was pretty useless. She’s right – a) students tend not to read it (although I make them and get them to note down an action point in their books), b) I think it’s more for the parents’ benefit to be honest.

I’ve taken on board this great advice:

  • Give learners immediate, verbal feedback.
  • Note down that you’ve given them verbal feedback
  • Note down if they show uptake of the verbal feedback
  • Communicate this to them / parents

Awesome. The students have these communication books where they record what they did / learnt in class, new vocab, etc. I now make sure these are to hand during the lesson. If I give verbal feedback, I either quickly note it on their work (a simple code) or in their communication book.

I did this in my first YL lesson of the day on Saturday, and then in the 4 other classes (YL and teen) over the weekend. Game changer…

  • Learners now have a better record of feedback and more guidance on what they need to improve
  • I was far more attentive and responsive to learner needs
  • I understood more about my learners and how they respond / whether they understand the feedback I share.

Downside…

Well, it’s tough to keep this up. You need a system, what / who to focus on, at which stage, etc. I’m working on it.

Don’t tell, explain!

Hey, I said things were simple. I’ve got to say, this is the best piece of advice I’ve been given this week, and I’m going to take it on board for next weekend’s classes:

‘Don’t just tell the learners that they should/shouldn’t do something. Explain or try to elicit why.’

That advice was from my partner’s boss – great stuff.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit crap at this. That’s especially true when it comes to behaviour management, and discipline. I should really try this is with pairing students. Kids sometimes sigh or moan when they are paired with someone they’d rather not work with. Okay, they don’t always mean anything by it – they probably just want to work with their mates, and there’s often a bit of ‘I don’t wanna work with a girl/boy’ embarrassment too. I respond with a kind of scoldy ‘how do you think so and so feels about the way you’ve reacted?’ which is harsh on the kids sometimes. I need to be more caring and nurturing. As my mentor suggested, acting out or demonstrating the impact of how we react to others through play (like puppets) would be more effective.

Actually, the greater lesson there is that taking time out to deal with issues like this is just as important, if not more important than the kids learning a bit of English. So, I should react more to their needs as people I guess.

Right, onto next week…

Feature image:  Erika Wittleib, Pixabay

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