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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Precious Moments

It may not look much, but with a lot of dedication and care it will become something wonderful.

On a day when some classes seem like an uphill struggle, when it appears that some students are just trying to make life more difficult for you, when you find it impossible to get the to children stop shouting and sit down, and all because it is raining outside; there sometimes comes a glimpse of light in that dark, heavy ambience; a ray of sunlight or a rainbow to brighten up your day.

This happened to me yesterday. Not that my previous class had gone badly, but the bad weather along with the ever-present challenge of trying to help some students to learn had started to get me down slightly. It is November, one month til the Christmas holidays and just over two months since the new term began, when things have settled down enough for people to start complaining and demanding things from you. Demotivation starts to creep in to the souls of learners and colleagues. There is a reason why in the UK they have a half-term break!

Then, a six-year-old changed everything.

With this particular class I decided to take a kind of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) approach. I spent the summer designing a course for them, and I am working on the finer details as we go along. Really, what we are doing is learning about and doing lots of different things, of the domains of various school subjects. We learn about living creatures, do projects, make things, do experiments, listen to stories and so on. Yesterday, we were discussing the story of The Three Little Pigs. I hadn't yet read them the story, but as it is a well-known tale in Spain too, we were discussing what the children knew about it. Of course this was being done in Spanish - the children have very little productive English at this stage- and I was providing them with some vocabulary trying to encourage them to use it. This meant that their Spanish sentences explaining the story went something like: "Pig construyó una casa de paja". I could see Lucía was thinking about something, and when she put up her hand she said that she had something to say in English.

Slowly, but confidently, she exclaimed: 

"The wolf up the house!" 

Well, this was something new! A six-year-old trying to make a full sentence in English. On her own. With no encouragement or elicitation. I was taken aback. Of course the sentence needed a verb for it to make real sense, but her sentence had meaning and could be easily understood. Lucía was communicating in English!
And she knew exactly what she was saying because she made a gesture for "up" so that we would know what she meant. For me, this is a really important step for Lucía. I have been exposing the children to more English than they are used to, in the hope that they will eventually understand me and pick up some of it themselves. I focus on important vocabulary and repeat it a lot while we are doing things, and then wait for them to use it without being prompted. It takes such a long time for this to happen usually, and so I was shocked to hear something that included new vocabulary along with vocabulary we learnt in October, and in a coherent sentence.

My reaction may seem over the top, but I almost had tears in my eyes when this little girl said what she did. I felt so proud! I praised her effusively for her efforts. It gave me the feeling that maybe what I am doing is working, maybe this way of learning is effective.

Thank you, Lucía. You really made my week!


  1. Wow Michelle! What a wonderful moment! I feel so identified, that I also feel proud. jaja It is so great when these kind of things happen in our classes, that we cannot explain with words how we are feeling. It may seem very little for some people, but if you are a teacher you can understand what a huge step Lucia has taken. Congratulations on your wonderful job, and keep up the hard working! It is a great technique to have young learners communicate mixing Spanish and English, they incorporate a lot, they are like sponges at that age. I have written about this topic here: I would like to know your opinion about it. Kisses and Hugs.

  2. Thank you for commenting, Sabrina. It's nice when a young child comes out with something more than a single word in English. Usually, these kinds of utterances are typical classroom language that they have picked up from having heard it so many times. In Lucía's case, this wasn't a chunk of language she had picked up but a sentence she had constructed herself, which is what made it more gratifying.

    I think that what you are doing with your sercond graders is a great way of helping them aqcuire English. Some may need more scaffolding than others, but the point is they are using what language they can in order to communicate, whether this is Spanish, English or a mixture of both.

    With a previous class we used to have a similar time at the beginning or end of the lesson, but it was a kind of "show and tell". The children loved bringing things in to show the others. They would bring in toys, books, and things they had found such as peculiar stones. It was often done in Spanish with me providing vocabulary, but it was a nice, personalised routine to have before getting on with the "real" lesson.

    I'd love to know more about what you are doing with your younger students. Have you noticed much improvement since you began taking a dogme approach?

    Nice to hear from you, anyway! Un abrazo.

  3. I think you had every reason to (almost) have a tear in your eye. It's a lovely story.

  4. Michelle,
    I have just read your answer to my comment. Classes have just finished here in Argentina. And yes, I have had a magical moment similar to the one you've mentioned in your post (I think I should thank for that to dogme =)) One day one of my students came to me and told me Your hair is beautiful. I was jumping for joy. And not because she has praised my hair precisely. She had been able to construct an accurate sentence in English with subject, verb and predicate. Just excellent! Another magical moment for the record.


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