fruit-tree concept

– motivation in the EFL classroom

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going back to the basics

This week I went to the didacta, the education fair, in Cologne. One of the things that really struck us when chatting on the bus home, was that there was so much nice stuff for the primary schools, be it the interior architecture or the available learning materials. My colleague enthused about how fantastic her son’s school was and, as much as we value our school, we wondered how come it is deemed necessary for 8 or 9 year olds to need “nice stuff” but less so when they are 10 or 11. Anybody who had seen how happy the 14 year old boys were to get a marble for a good vocab test would surely not think that they were out of the age for playing! Joking aside, however, my colleague also talked about the kids not learning anything in English: there was no grammar or formal writing excercises, she said – I must add that this was a Maths teacher. Teaching English in primary schools is still a bit of a problem here in Germany. It has been part of the curriculum since the late 1990s but there often weren’t the qualified teachers for the task and often teachers were just “put on the job” perhaps with a little “extra training”. This will mean that you will have good teachers who are enthusiastic and others who may not feel so sure about the language themselves and I believe that these people are really setting foundations for the future.

It isn’t as if the kids have no experience of the English language – they are probably not aware that they have seen or heard so much. I challenge anyone in Germany to find someone under 20 who cannot say “I love to entertain you”, the motto of Pro7, a popular TV channel. So the English lessons don’t start at school but what should start is the focusing and making the kids aware of what is around them.

My next thought was that it is then no wonder that a lot of kids experience the total culture shock when they leave their organically formed primary school envirnonment for year 5 in the “big school” – and it usually is in comparison.

Storytelling is, in actual fact, one of the methods championed in the primary didactics, as is painting and singing – all very expressive. So why are we supposed to stop after year 4? There does seem to be a slight change in mindsets, if we consider the thoughts voiced by the New London Group about the development of multiliteracies but a lot of the literature pertains to primary education.

Being creative means being productive and if we can pack language into that haptic package then it can’t be wrong, can it? Especially if the language can be connected to a successful project (be it a pretty picture or a more sophisticated film).2013-02-22 13.31.58

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recycling ideas about recycling…

As much as I love new, shiny things, I draw an incredible amount of satisfaction out of ‘making new out of old’; I can’t stand too much clutter but don’t like waste and I am not keen on throwing stuff out. Sometimes I (fleetingly) have a guilty conscience about producing more material stuff than the world needs – but isn’t that what Art is about to a certain extent? However, some of my best paintings have been produced by recycling old paintings and I really quite like the idea that only I know the real story (literally) behind that particular picture unless I choose to share it.

I think it is particularly important to think about these things these days and try and consider how we can reduce the amount of waste we produce or how we can use the materials we have around us to be creative or even produce something useful. For this reason, it is one aspect I try to incorporate into my Art-CLIL ideas.

Just recently I created the MacBook leather sleeve below with a friend who had the sewing expertise and a good machine, from leftover leather pieces which can be bought fairly cheaply or you can sometimes get pieces for nothing from furniture shops. This got me thinking further and now I am the proud owner of about half a cubic metre of high quality furniture covering samples and feel a little overwhelmed!Image But no matter, it means that I am well-equipped if any students want to try something similar. I reckon my next step will be a sewing machine.

Many kids would never have the opportunity to even try sewing on a sewing machine if they don’t try it at school.

I have some more ‘new from old’ ideas but I’ll report about those another day!

…been a bit quiet lately!

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I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking in the last couple of months. Around Xmas I started a new story project with year 8 students but there seems to be a few hindrances: First of all, some seem to feel over-challenged despite taking them through the project step by step. One girl produced a fantastic short digital story about cyber mobbing in no time at all which has even been used in other classes to discuss this subject, but most of the others seem to be stumped once requested to put images to their texts (storyboard) although they had already successfully completed a picture book project the year before. The other hindrance is the system itself: just as we get into full swing with the project, the students have to be prepared for an external standards test. for EFL. This means going through practice tests so that they know the test format on the day but it has really knocked our schedule off track…and is not the most inspiring of tasks. However, interestingly enough, many students like having the safety of printed sheets and tasks to fulfil.