They’re little. Now what?
Procrastination prose part 2
Okay. Let’s refresh on procrastination prose part 1. I decided that a good place to start (I’m supposed to be writing and online workshop remember) was with some questions participants might like answered. They were:
What are VYLs? (I think we’ve covered the basics)
What are their characteristics and the implications of these in the classroom? (we looked at some statements and made a checklist for the classroom)
Ok. That leaves this then.
How about some defined pathways designed to meet our goals? Validating teaching VYL to sceptics who say it is ‘just’ playing games and singing songs? Pleasing stakeholders in an increasingly competitive industry?
A normal step would be to assess the needs of the students and choose a coursebook (and use this as our syllabus. C’mon, don’t try and tell me you don’t). Let me begin by saying there are loads of fabulous coursebooks out there for VYL (My favourite is Cookie and Friends. Once you hear the weather song, you’re hooked for life) and a good way getting into the right mindset and arming yourself with great ideas is to spend some time reading the accompanying teachers books and asking yourself why. But for the sake of the blog, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it all.
How do we do a needs analysis for VYL? We could go in with pen and paper and ask them about their learning needs, not sure, however, what kind of response we’d get. Okay, I’m being silly. But with some lateral thinking we can in fact do a needs analysis by thinking about the characteristics we looked at in part 1. How? Have you read Nunan’s legendary ‘Syllabus Design’ (1988)? Great book. Needs analysis 101: learners assumptions, purpose, societal expectations and constraints and other subsidiary questions….. that’s all very well for most learners, but….. VYL lack the cognitive ability and awareness required to enable them to indicate their present and future learning needs. VYL are not generally aware that they are acquiring a language, nor are they aware of societal values and attitudes placed on one language or another. Their needs are more immediate, related to providing tasks and topics of interest, and tools for basic communication in the classroom. AND let’s not forget. Stakeholders are involved. Mummy and Daddy are the paying customers here. So let’s look to Jim Scrivener and an old favourite of teachers around the globe ‘Learning Teaching’ (2005) for some simple guidance, intended for adult learners, but indeed suitable for our purposes. He proposes 3 questions for a basic needs analysis.
- Where is the learner coming from?
Er, Home? Sometimes our VYL have had some English before they come to us, but it’s more than likely they’ve been home with Mum (or Dad) and aren’t used to a classroom environment. They also (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere already) have a limited experience of the world. Their world is a lot smaller than ours. It extends from Home, to Preschool to Grandma’s, to Tesco, to the Playground…you get the idea. It’s useful to know the child’s cultural background. Have they always lived in the country they live in now, what language is spoken at home etc. I could go on here, but let’ not go overboard.
- What does the learner want/ need?
A great job in International Relations? I think not (but Mummy and Daddy may have that in mind). They want to have fun and ‘like’ being in your classroom. They want it to be a safe, fun, pleasant place to be and to enjoy positive and constructive experiences. They want/ need you to think about all the intelligences/ learning styles/ skills and teach them holistically. Word up, it’s worth looking in the Primary Teacher’s Guide on page 36(Brewster, Ellis and Girard, 2004). There are certain topics that VYL’s typically like and are interested in; animals, toys, colours, make believe (princesses, fairies, pirates etc) but it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they like (keeping in mind the answer is likely to change from week to week) and asking the parents what topics they like to talk about in L1.
It’s also a good idea to think about what lexical sets are relevant to their age and situation i.e. can be used in real contexts: family, clothes, weather. It’s also key to consider language items the learner can; use in real contexts : ‘I’m..’ ‘It’s…’ ‘It’s a…’ ‘I have…’ ‘Can I have…’ ‘I like/ don’t like…’ ‘yes/ no’ ‘Please’ ‘Thank you’ ‘Hello’ ‘Goodbye’ AND recognise in real contexts: ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Would you like..’ ‘Do you like..’ ‘Is it…?’ ‘What is it…?’ ‘put on/ take off’
Oh, I almost forget. It’s also about what the stakeholders want, need. Perhaps you need to work towards some sort of mini end of year production to keep the parents happy? Find out what their expectations are (and delicately educate them about what they can realistically expect if possible).
- How would they like to learn it?
We know this one! Songs and games, right? Didn’t we already establish that that’s what other teachers think we do all day? They’re not too far off you know. These are the bricks (without the mortar) or a VYL lesson. They would ‘like’ to learn by experiencing the language, and, as forementioned, by having fun. Whilst most syllabuses include both linguistic and attitudinal goals, the attitudinal goals are often proportionately more important the younger the learner is. VYL lack literacy skills as well as the ability to make abstract deductions. They are often still making mistakes in L1 and therefore can’t be expected to follow a structural progression. Aiming for VYL to enjoy using the language is more appropriate. Linguistic and cognitive aims are embedded within the individual components of the syllabus, but the overall focus is to provide necessary conditions and motivating experiences for the target language to be acquired. Whoah. That was a mouthful (can one say that when typing? A keyboard full perhaps?). To summarise, how about taking a look at the goals of the VYL programme I coordinate at my school.
- To provide a positive and constructive first language experience.
- To introduce children to learning English in a fun and involving manner with a focus on recognition before production and exposing them to natural, communicative English through real communication.
I’ve chosen a list of topics, useful language and materials based on my assessment, experience and theories behind VYL. During induction, I highlight to my teachers the six features of the syllabus which reflect key methodology and approaches aimed at making learning enjoyable and meaningful for this group. The six key features: Routine, Stories, Songs and Chants, TPR, Games, Craft, can be incorporated into any VYL syllabus and would act as a good guide for those teachers new to VYL.
Routine is vital in any VYL programme. VYL like the familiar, it gives them a sense of security when they know what to expect (but don’t we all feel this way?), and it provides repeated exposure and opportunity for use of the language. The first month of my VYL programme has limited new language so that the teacher can focus on the routines and recognition metalanguage.
Stories provide an extension to the themes, appeal to a VYLs visual nature and inclination towards fantasy. Indulging in their imagination enables VYL to connect the language to real life. Storytelling is central to a child’s development, is generally a preferred activity in L1, and takes advantage of acquisition based methodology. Let’s have a look at an oldie but goodie from Krashen (1981:103), storytelling…
“ creates an acquisition rich environment and ideal learning conditions which provide comprehensible input, or language a little beyond the child’s current level of competence”
Songs and chants present language in a fun way, and also encourage experimenting with the sounds of English. (Ideally) coupled with this and a dominant feature is Total Physical Response (TPR). VYL learn through direct experiences via the five senses. This combination encourages cognitive development via concentration and coordination. What’s more, the repetition and parallelism is something they like and instrumental to memory.
Games play an important role as they are; motivational and enjoyable, can change the pace of
the lesson e.g. ‘stir’ or ‘settle’ to take advantage of energy levels, and provide opportunities for social and cognitive development such as ‘developing strategies’ and ‘turn taking’.
Craft or table based activities are a valuable way of providing comprehensible input, as following instructions is required. It also gives the learners a ‘silent period’ to consolidate the language, and provides them with a stimulus when their parents ask ‘What did you learn in English today?’.
Okay. Now the heavy stuff is over, it’s time for me to go make a cup of tea. BUT, stay tuned, I intend to write a third instalment. A practical component. Yay! They’re little. Got it. Let’s get on with it. Procrastination Prose part 3. Some hands on ways to apply all this theory. Basically, what the hell to do once you’re inside the classroom.
Until next time……