Nives' endeavours as an English Teacher

PLAY, LEARN & GROW an After School Project

PLAY, LEARN & GROW is a language learning project aimed at Elementary school children and most recently also included a preschool project. This page is going to give an outline of the Elementary school project and the PreSchoolers project will be continued on another page.

My motto for learning is to get the children to learn as they play while growing together as a class.                       English as a language and as a means to enjoy and play.

The Play, Learn and Grow Together  project was designated an after school language learning project because it was carried out separate and distinct to daily school activities. The project curriculum designed by Mrs Nives Torresi – was for elementary children attending regular school in the morning and returning to the same school for one afternoon per week. The project began on an idea in 2013 and has been repeated in its second year with even more enthusiasm than the first project. It is an experiment at a personal cost to the parents whom have embraced the idea and promote its continuance.

The first project in the 2013-14 school year included 8 children in the 2nd grade elementary being then 7 year olds. The second project in 2014-15 school year, now 3rd grade, saw 6 participants at age 8 years.

Project dates

  1. Year 1 Part 1 from 4 November to 16 December 2013 for a total of 7 lessons of 90mins
  2. Year 1 Part 2 from 10 February to 14 April 2014 for a total of 9 lessons of 90mins
  3. Year 2 Part 1 from 20 October to 15 December 2014 for a total of 10 Lessons of 90mins

The aim of the 2014 ‘course’ to be carried out in 10 lessons of one and half hours plus a final ‘recital’ had for its theme ‘Telling the News’ – the children were given the possibility to choose their news item. The theme would give them a goal for their final recital, a method of collating information via the internet or local papers, communication with their parents about the theme and a general feel of being Junior Reporters.  All the while learning new words in English (English is a Foreign language in Italy) – words that would help to create basic spoken phrases without enforcing the grammar theory. In other words allowing the ‘grammar’ to occur naturally without pushing its grammatical rules and regulations.

Learning a spoken language as it is spoken rather than as it is studied. These same students already have English as a subject in their morning school taught by a native Italian Teacher using appropriate Text books and the use of an Interactive Whiteboard for the interactive practice associated with the Text book. Hence there was no real need to repeat the same in the after school project but rather turn this afternoon into a fun, active atmosphere where learning is akin to playing. We all know how important learning is, but do we really comprehend how important ‘playing’ is for children – can we as Teachers, even with all the pedagogical theory to back us up, really reach inside that child’s mind and satisfy their needs and not just adhere to the ‘system’ of educational instruction. On this basis the project took root, learning as part of playing, playing as part of growing and growing in a happy atmosphere can only benefit their physical and psychological well-being.

The classroom used also provided access to an interactive whiteboard (LIM) and a computer. Normal chalk blackboard was also present as were the student desks, chairs, coat hooks, books, pens (colouring and not), dictionaries, teacher’s desk, etc. In effect it was ‘their’ room in every aspect, this being a positive and sometimes negative point. Positive because it made the children feel comfortable like being in their own ‘space’ – but sometimes negative because the children became rulers of their own space by wanting to ‘control’ the Teacher. However this was overcome by sheer determination and adding ground rules that created an equal blend enhancing learning in an atmosphere of fun and play. In other words the room itself was conducive to many and varied activities, the room was also very aerated with wide windows overlooking their own school playground – situated at the same ground level.

The 2014 part 1 course outline was to be carried out in a 90 minute interactive weekly class for 10 weeks and consisted of:

  • Preparing a folder to keep their work,
  • Working on their topic,
  • Dancing and singing to an English song,
  • Creating phrases with new words,
  • Remembering by usage the words and phrases learnt,
  • Creating an online whiteboard to work on their projects at home using a pc or tablet,
  • Access to all music via direct links to online platforms such as British Council Learn English Kids,
  • Creating a class badge and adding it to their online whiteboard,
  • Taking photos and video clips,
  • Preparing and agreeing together on a presentation programme for the recital,
  • Memorizing the ‘pronunciation’ and fluency of their News Report for the recital,
  • Taking time to listen and read,
  • Participate on the class whiteboard or blackboard with simple activities,
  • Creation of a classroom ‘key phrase’ for each week

The course outline – culminated from the theme of Junior Reporters creating a news item about their own town or culture – may seem unusual but the essence was to stimulate the children to think in another language about things that would be inherent in their own surroundings. The aim was to get the children active in the awareness of their own local culture and allow them to choose freely. Finding the theme in their own dimension, creating the idea in the classroom, talking about their reason for choosing their topic in an open round table and then preparing it in their own native language. The use of the classroom dictionary for looking up the key words in English and adding it to their ‘notes’ and preparing their folder for submission. The weekly routine of the Teacher checking the progress of their submissions in their folders (created in class too) spurred the children onwards. Some even did ‘extra’ research at home by using local papers and magazines or using (parental guided) internet to look for images or stories that verified their own story.

The classroom was set up for working in a team atmosphere rather than individual desks facing the teacher. The tables were united at the beginning of the class to form desks with students facing each other in a sort of round table. Giving them access to liberally chat, share items and provoke each other into chatting or communicating, even into showing off their own creative ideas. The children added their own drawings or clippings from magazines to their folder. Each week was spent in slowly ‘translating’ the Italian text into English text in one of the segments of the class time. It is difficult to get them to ‘speak’ concurrently in English but the Teacher constantly spoke only English hence they had to continuously listen and think what was being said and then act on it – for example: The Teacher would say “ok children, now put away your work books because we will be listening to a song on the whiteboard” – it would be repeated at least three times slowly with some physical hand action until the children would ‘nudge’ each other into translating the key words as a method to understanding. It would always culminate into a moment of excitement when they realized they had understood. The Teacher would smile and give them a joyful praise, even when sometimes they may have been wrong, praising for effort was half the battle anyway.

The giant interactive whiteboard was a projector screen with a projector hooked onto the classroom computer running Microsoft windows system and software. The interactive whiteboard was an expense incurred by the modern thinking parents of this class.  The whiteboard, in this project, was also used to connect online to common platforms for English learning such as British Council Learn English Kids which has a wonderful collection of stories, games and music, many which are interactive. The whiteboard was also used to replay the photos taken in class, prepare the class programme power point slide show together, add their photo to their own News Report.  Also the wide screen was an incentive to create the ‘dance and movement’ time devoted to each lesson.

The Dance and Movement moment was not forced upon the children, one or two on occasion were too ‘tired’ to get up but the whole group sat in a semi-circle and got up when and if they felt like it. They would spur each other on – at this point the Teacher’s role was just to play the song (via the pc link) keep the sound level of the speakers to an adequate/acceptable ‘noise’ level. Leaving the children to act out the English words of the song as they ‘felt’ them, with no forced or induced movements. The time set aside for this activity varied from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on their willingness to continue or end of lesson, but sometimes lingered on even over class lesson time. The children enjoyed this moment of ‘freedom’ as they saw it, more so than if this activity had been specifically enforced to lead towards a certain goal. However unbeknownst to them the movement did accentuate their ‘play’ atmosphere giving them a sense of control over the class time and inherently prepared them for their ‘public’ display. Most children of that age begin to shy away from cameras/photos in general as too recitals in front of adults in a school atmosphere more so than in a private setting as experience would show. So part of the plan of inserting this activity was to shed some of that shyness for the eventual ‘big day’ which had no bearing on the individual classes until the end of the project when the ‘rehearsals’ took place. All the ‘stage nerves’ did however make an appearance on the final show day, but much to the amazement of their parents the children were well equipped to handle their own nerves, which only went to sanction their willpower to put on a good show.

The final recital in itself was a very simple program to follow, beginning with an opening song of Merry Christmas (an old favourite at that time of year) – then a brief individual introduction in English, followed by each Junior Reporter sitting at the news desk and reading aloud all of their News story. Then the dance and movement section involved two of their favourite songs of which they sang and danced to their hearts content shaking off the stage fright nerves from having read aloud. To note here – the recital was preceded by a ‘video presentation of the children’s work on a power point slide show’ – giving the children time to absorb the atmosphere also by closely watching the reactions of the ‘adults’ attending the recital. The muffled ‘ahs – that’s my son/daughter’ or soft clapping during the video presentation actually boosted their confidence. The whole recital took just under 1 hour but seemed hours for the exhausted ‘actors’ who went home with a huge smile and a happy go lucky sense of achievement.

Lessons learnt

What are some lessons to be learned from this small project taken in a snippet of the lives of  these children. The first project in 2013-14 was divided among two teachers of which the children found hard to fathom, strangely enough. Children take time to create a bond with their Teacher who represents their focal point in the classroom, when that Teacher is removed and another takes his/her place then that bond cannot be recreated in the space of a few lessons. This fact brought home the understanding that one project is to be carried out by only one Teacher. Hence the 2014 project provided for only one Teacher for the whole project – start to finish. Children will do more in an atmosphere that they feel they are in control of – a room that they know, a Teacher that they can relate to (young or old), surroundings that are familiar. These represent their ‘comfort zones’ and they in turn become the ‘masters of their learning’ – because if the children feel at ease and ‘safe’ then all else can be manoeuvred by the Educator. This is the most powerful lesson learned when teaching young learners, Teachers must lower themselves to reach into that world and make it as comfortable an environment for learning as is possible within the realm of teaching for personal development and growth. Only then will the children open up their hearts and minds and look to learn as they play and grow together.

Webinar – IATEFL YLT SIG on WizIQ

The above was used as the basis for a Webinar within the IATEFL YLT SIG webinars on WizIQ – the recording and other Webinars are available on WizIQ.

Tutorials used for the Webinar Slides used for Live WebinarSlides used for prerecorded videoVideo presentation kindly made into a great video using a TTS robot that sounds Australian (just like me!)

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