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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!
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