Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Return To Kindergarten

by AJ

To address the aforementioned problem of wasting time in class, I tried something new today. Actually, I tried something old... something I used to do in my first teaching job when I taught Korean kindergarten children.

I introduced the idea of learning stations.

When I taught kindergarten, we did "learning stations" every day. I created little distinct areas in my room. One was a reading corner. I put a lot of our favorite books there. One was a play corner. I put plastic toys there.. mostly little animals, dinosaurs, etc. Another area had phonics cards.

Each day, I divided the kids and sent them to a station. They got 15-30 minutes at each station, sometimes more. It worked great. I got tremendous joy, especially, from the play corner. I loved listening to them play with their little animals using English. They talked for the animals, imagined little scenarios, had arguments and fights between the animals, etc.... all in English. This after having "studied" English for only three months.

So today I tried a modified form of this. I had four stations: reading (a newspaper article), discussion (with a topic), writing (including corrected rewrites by a teacher) and vocab review.

Results today were mixed. The reading station went well. The writing station went well too. But the discussion station did not. Several groups just sat there doing & saying nothing... this from an advanced class fluent in English. The vocab review station also was so-so... some groups made little effort to quiz each other on the words & phrases we've learned.

I suspect the writing station went well mainly because there was a teacher there to goad them on. Same is true of the reading station. I found this quite frustrating, that the moment a teacher wasnt there pushing them, they lapsed into doing nothing. Herein, again, we find the malaise of teacher dependency.

But Im not giving up. This is one way to maximize classroom efficiency. Stations allow for high intensity learning... because students switch to a different activity after 20 minutes or so. If they are self-motivated, they can accomplish a great deal at each one.

I know this can work and it can work very well. And dammit, if kindergarten children can do this... if they can be energized and on-task, then certainly grown adults can.

I suspect, in fact, that my problems with this advanced class have little to nothing to do with teaching approach, curriculum, and linguistic activities.

My problem is a motivational & emotional one. Ive simply done a piss poor job of coaching them. They dont need detailed linguistic explanations from me (even though they occasionally ask for them). They certainly dont need me to tell them how to learn English, as they are already mostly fluent.

What they need from me is encouragement, focus, a gameplan, and... at times,... a little kick in the ass. Hell, we all need that from time to time. Most of us occasionally need someone to egg us on to higher performance, greater intensity, etc.

When I trained for my second marathon, for example, I did a much better job than when I trained for my first. Why? Because I trained alone for the first one and trained with a partner for the second. The partner helped keep me on task. I was less likely to skip a training run because I knew she was relying on me to join her. Also, we seemed to push each other. If she was feeling a little lazy, Id often push her to a faster pace. When I was a bit lazy, she did the same for me. As a result, my time was considerably better in my second race.

Thats the sort of thing we, as teachers, can do for our students... especially our advanced students who already know the language well. Most of them (all of them) are more accomplished foreign language learners than I am. But thats OK. Michael Jordan was a better basketball player than his coach Phil Jackson... but he still relied on Jackson to egg him on to higher levels.

In sum, I feel Im doing well with the linguistic side of the formula. Ive got a very good tool chest of structured input activities that utilize authentic materials. I also do a fairly decent job with presentation... have a loud and clear speaking voice, good energy, good gestures, etc...

My glaring weakness now is on the emotional/motivational/coaching side of the equation. Im total crap at demanding high standards from other people. Im terrible at egging them on to higher levels of performance. Im always trying to be a nice guy and am therefore horrible at giving the occasionally necessary kick in the butt to good performers who need it.

And so, coaching is the next skill I need to drastically improve.

San Francisco, CA