Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Loving Schools

As a Michael Rosen fan, I don't want to miss the opportunity to share with you this great idea: "to turn every school into a 'book loving' school, a place where books are prioritised and enjoyed".

It is worth to have a look to the site Reading Revolution in which you will find lots of interesting ideas that can be adopted or adapted to shape your school.

You will find these ideas in the shape of some videos like this...  
... or in a complete 20-point plan to help make schools a place where everyone talks about reading.

First of all, my apologies to Michael Rosen for the transcription of this paper without permission. But I find it terrible interesting for many of my readers who want to set a class library in the ESL area. Some of these tips are probably too much"school library oriented", but you can think about how can you implement them in the teaching of ESL literacy and in your English room.

How to make a book-loving school by Michael Rosen

1. Does the school have in place any kind of home-school liaison where someone talks with individual parents about specific books, libraries, book departments, magazines, book clubs, book shows, that might interest this specific child and his or her carers?

2. Does the school hold book events all year round with writers, illustrators, story-tellers, librarians, book enthusiasts coming in and talking and performing for the children and parents?

3. Does the school not only invite in a syndicated book fair but also invites in local bookshops, specialist bookshops and has books available for borrowing or buying to support the visiting writers, speakers, performers and story-tellers?

4. Is there someone in the school trained and interested in running the school library and who is on hand to give advice to every teacher to help them with their class libraries?

5. Does the school run book clubs for teachers, parents and children?

6. Does the school give every parent information – perhaps in the form of an attractive pack – on the local library, the local bookshop? Does the school take children and parents to these venues?

7. Do the school and individual classes adopt an author or illustrator for the week, or month or term and investigate, explore and do creative work around that author and illustrator?

8. Do the children make books of their own? Are these readily available for everyone in the school and parents too?
Does the school encourage parents to come in and make books with the children? Does the school celebrate and cherish these books as much as it celebrates its most important activities?

9. Does the school encourage children to pass books between each other by means of book swaps, prominently displayed reviews, assembly presentation of ‘this week’s good read’, book posters and the like?

10. Does the school seize every possible moment - eg visits to museums, visits from specialists of any kind, school trips – to support these events and activities with books, eliciting from all and sundry what their favourite books are or were when they were children?

11. Are there regular whole school projects (like, say "The Universe") where a topic or theme can be supported by books of all kinds, all genres and all ages? Is the school on these occasions inundated with books?

12. Are assemblies and classrooms frequently a place when children are encouraged to become fascinated by something – anything! – to do with a book or what’s in a book?

13. Are the head’s study and teachers’ desks places where special, intriguing, exciting, ever-changing, odd, old, weird books lurk?

14. Does the school keep and use book reviews of children’s books from books reviews magazines, the broadsheet review pages and the internet?

15. Is there at least one time every week where children will have nothing else to do with a book other than to read it, listen to it, and chat about it in an open-ended way?

16. I don’t think any meeting held by teachers to help parents understand what literacy is, should ever be without the presence in the room and the time to look at them, of different picture books from famous writers and illustrators. 

17. There should be Beano* annuals and football programmes open at the Junior Supporters pages, there should be books that tie in with TV shows and films.

18. Teachers could and should wrap up a meeting with parents with a read-aloud session.

19. Parents and grandparents should be encouraged to bring in and show off the books and magazines, no matter how humble, that they’ve kept since their childhoods.

20. The re-introduction of children’s literature courses on teacher and assistant teacher training courses.

For more information about Michael Rosen and his tips for how to make a book-loving school, visit:

*British Children's comic

Monday, April 23, 2012

Differentiated Instruction and Bloom’s Taxonomy

In our current curriculum, all students of ESL are expected to master a same level of proficiency in English language at the end of primary education (C1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference). Helping all students succeed in their learning is a huge challenge that requires “innovative thinking”.

The main problem is that no one single student in a classroom has the same identical abilities, experiences, and needs. Learning styles, language proficiency, background knowledge, and many other factors can vary widely within a single class group.

Differentiated instruction is an instructional theory that allows teachers to face this challenge by taking diverse student factors into account when planning and delivering instruction. Based on this theory, teachers can structure learning environments that address the variety of learning styles, interests, and abilities found within a classroom.

Bloom’s taxonomy in action!

For example: English Language learners in Primary education may have trouble producing and understanding questions in English. But this doesn’t mean that they cannot move towards more advanced levels of thinking.

It is very important for ESL teachers to have in mind the Bloom’s taxonomy when we design and develop activities for young learners, especially when asking questions.
Bloom's taxonomy breaks down the critical thinking skills into different levels. The higher up on the triangle, the more difficult the skill.
So then, what are the questions we as teachers should ask students?

Primary school ESL students need to work on everything at the bottom of the triangle (the first three steps). First, they should practicing to answer simple questions, to learn vocabulary, to do matching activities (images and meanings), to complete sentences, to ask simple questions, to use appropriate structures of sentences, to classify words, to follow patterns and models, and so on.

Then, we should focus on working the capacity of finding the right information after understanding the question.

Teachers must start practicing with images, flashcards or any visual support, asking questions like “How many animals can you see in this picture?”

Then, we must invite children to make their own questions “What animal is it? Guess the animal! Has it got short or long ears?”

Later, from the picture, the teacher can ask questions that require more critical thinking, such as: Why do you think the lion is lying on the ground under the tree? Do you think the lion is hungry?

I’ve got a reading corner in my class, for year 2 students, with lots of different graded books. This is a weekly activity in which children choose a book to read. The first activity is to present the book to the rest of the class and explain why they have chosen it (this is usually made in L1).

Reading Corner
When they finish the book they must answer one question (I have already prepared) for each level of the Bloom’s triangle. More advanced readers (and good learners) are asked to write six different questions according to Bloom to be shared with other students.

Beginner learners are allowed to write the answers in their own language to facilitate coping with the levels of the taxonomy.

So, what else is new?

Working with the six levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy promotes students self confidence and helps them in the development of metacognitive skills. In the above mentioned example, it helps children to be more conscious about the text comprehension.

After understanding the text, children have to start thinking in other difficult issues, such as, “What the author is really trying to say?” ... a big question promotes a big learning...

Example of questions posted in the classroom help remind teachers and students to think more critically
 And... a challenge for teachers!

What Differentiated Instruction Means for Teachers
Teachers DO
Teachers DON'T
  • provide several learning options, or different paths to learning, which help students take in information and make sense of concepts and skills.
  • develop a separate lesson plan for each student in a classroom.
  • provide appropriate levels of challenge for all students, including those who lag behind, those who are advanced, and those right in the middle.
  • "water down" the curriculum for some students.
 Chart by Jennipher Willoughby, a freelance writer and former science and technology specialist for Lynchburg City Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Assessing literacy of pupils in a language other than a pupil’s mother tongue

AYLLIT is a project run within the ECML's (European Centre for Modern Languages) Empowering Language Professionals programme entitled "Assessment of young learner literacy linked to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages".

The project is coordinated by Angela Hasselgreen, Karmen Pizorn, Violeta Kaledaité and Natàlia Maldonado-Martin.

Its main aim is to give a framework for assessing the literacy of pupils in a language other than a pupil’s mother tongue and to offer teachers material and guidelines for the assessment of their pupils’ writing and storybook reading.

In its web page you can find a handbook that presents practical issues and principles associated with this assessment. The section on writing also contains a step-by-step guide for training teachers in the use of the material.

You will find tips on how to get pupils to write, how to assess their writing and how to give feedback. This is illustrated by pupils’ texts and teachers’ comments. In addition, the project website contains downloadable material for assessing writing. Samples of pupils’ writing across a range of levels are provided exemplifying how to use the proposed material, with comments demonstrating how the assessment can be used as a basis for feedback to the pupils.

In the following link -Resources- you will find the assessment material provided by AYLLIT project: writing descriptors, sample scripts of writing levels, and extremely useful text profiles and comments made by teachers.

This is one example of corrective feedback proposed in the handbook, among some other interesting assessment and correction tools.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Please do not disturb

"Please do not disturb" is an anonymous short poem I found by chance in a publicity leaflet of the New Zealand Post. I used to illustrate a new project about reading in my school and to give some extra ideas for implementing new activities around it.

It was a good idea to involve children in the production, thinking and taking photographs to illustrate the poem... Above all, language is the most important issue!

Please do not disturb
I'm travelling to new worlds, I'm moving back and forward in time, I'm face to face with heroes and adventurers, I'm gathering facts, I'm tracking down treasure, I'm living out my dreams, I'm feeling every emotion, I'm in the middle of a battle, I'm exploring outer space, I'm researching the Earth, I'm solving ancient mysteries, I'm breaking codes, I'm imagining cities I may never go to, I'm experiencing food and drink I may never taste, I'm discovering exotic animals, I'm picturing new colours, I'm picking up new skills and
I'm uncovering amazing possibilities.
Please do not disturb. I'm Reading. (Anon)

Monday, April 09, 2012

Barcelona Linguistic Landscape

Some days ago I read a post on Scott Thornbury's blog "An A-Z of ELT" about Linguistic Landscapes (which I really recommend you!). Thornbury said that “Barcelona may be an extreme case of public multilingualism, given the fact that it is the capital of a region that already has two official languages, as well as being a major tourist centre”.
Two official languages coexist with English. 

The term linguistic landscape is a relatively recent one, and refers to the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs in a given territory or region. It is proposed that the linguistic landscape may serve important informational and symbolic functions as a marker of the relative power and status of the linguistic communities inhabiting the territory (Landry and Bourhis, 1997: 23).
Nowadays you can "listen" to over 300 different languages ​​in Barcelona
So, a Linguistic Landscape has a lot to do with visual literacy and language policy in a new approach to multilinguism.

Thornbury points that this “can easily be reproduced as a classroom project, with the students taking on the role of “language detectives”‘, thereby becoming more aware of their own sociolinguistic context”.

I love the idea of language detectives. Every September, when the new school year begins, I organize a competition to pique the groups’ curiosity by asking them to collect examples of “English” they can find in and around their homes (tins, wrappings, packets, shop bags, toys, ads, magazines...).

 This little research become a starting point to introduce new vocabulary and review old one. It is also a good starter to do a task like “Designing T-shirts”, for example.

As an example, you can ask children to take some photos during a school trip and organize a session to answer the following questions (or some other ones adapted to primary level):

  • Where was this photo taken?
  • How many languages can you see?
  • Who wrote the text? For whom?
  • Why is (some of it) in English?
  • Is there a translation? Why/why not?
  • Is it correct?
  • Is there anything you don’t understand?
  • Is there anything you would like to remember?

Sure you've got some more interesting ideas!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Taking English out of the classroom

English language teachers are always looking for new ways to increase children exposure to the target language and to enlarge children’s world experiences.

Why do not bring English to the playground?

From BBC Radio 4
It is very well known that games are fun and children like to play them. That in itself is a strong argument to incorporate them in the ESL classroom and organize some games to be played during the playground time.

Through games children experiment, discover, and interact with their environment. Playing games is a vital and natural part of growing up and learning. If we do not include games into the syllabus the children will lose an essential tool for understanding their world.

Circle games brings fun and language
For many children between four and twelve years, language learning will not be the key motivational factor. But games can provide this stimulus. The game context makes the English language immediately useful to the children. It brings the target language to life.

“The game makes the reasons for speaking plausible even to reluctant children” (Lewis, 1999)

These are some web sites and materials with playground games: the ones I use them! I have got special care to select fun games, but always keeping in mind the language component and the communicative interaction.

Playground fun is a learning tool for the classroom and playground with articles and teaching materials. Playground fun, based on an idea by University of Glasgow, aims to bring together traditional and modern playground and street games for children aged 7–9 and aims to encourage children to take part in physical activity through education.

I know this is a classical one, but I always found Woodlands Junior School site terribly useful! They say that these are the games children love to play in England and around the world. It is a great way to compare children's plays, games, playgroud activities, and rhymes from different countries.

More than activities and games to be played in the payground, British Council propose some classroom to know the language to use in there, the objects they will find, actions, rules, and so one.

These are the flashcards I've got on the door of my English class, to promote playing in English in the playground. Every day we choose one group of games and we decide which one to play. I've got a big box full of balls, skipping ropes, big playground chalks to draw lines on the floor, a parachute, colour bandanas,elastics for French skipping, ...

Finally, a material I use a lot from my stage in New Zealand with traditional playground games and activities. May you find a little short of language practice, but just by explaining the activity, giving the rules and instructions and proposing some vocabulary to be used during the game, you are doing a lot of listening comprehension!