Say something nice

I don’t bring an electric keyboard and toys to class to teach grammar rules. That’s the job of the “formal” English teachers. My job is to help kids practice speaking so that they learn how to actually use all of those rules that sometimes even native speakers don’t fully understand. If you don’t know how important that is, look here, or search Google for “Lexical approach”. Since my job is also to teach them to enjoy English as a spoken language, I want that practice to be interesting, varied and meaningful while creating a pleasant, non-threatening environment for everyone.

It’s sometimes hard to relate to sentences written in a textbook. However, students often have trouble creating their own sentences using a specific format.

Recently I was helping a group of weak students practice (again) the different forms of “to be”, an essential English verb that has no Hebrew equivalent used in common speech. This time I tried something new. Each student had to compliment another student. To make sure we included he, she and you, they had to say the sentence to the student and then tell us the same thing. Example – “You are strong. She is strong.” Sometimes they had something to say about more than one student – “They are good at art”.

Not only did students leave class likely to make fewer mistakes, they also had more reasons to feel good about themselves.

What did we learn today?

Teaching creatively while maintaining structure means adapting many conventional ideas. 

One of my favorite sources is החופש ללמד  Their latest series of tips talks about having students sum up what they learned. I usually end a lesson either by having students collect objects while naming them, or with a chant “What did we learn today?”.  They suggest having several students write down something new they learned to see if they understood what we consider the most important points of the lesson.

Writing doesn’t really work in my groups. I teach spoken English. Students don’t have pencils out unless they’re learning about school supplies, looking for objects that are yellow or start with “p”, or using them to tap a rhythm. Some of them haven’t learned to write yet, and since the point of the lesson is learning to speak writing won’t demonstrate that.

So last week toward the end of lesson I opened the voice recording app on my phone and asked who wanted me to record them saying new words or phrases. This was a lot more exciting and more students wanted to answer. Most classes asked to hear the recording and students had an opportunity to hear themselves speak English. I save each recording by class, along with speech-to-text,  to have a record of their progress throughout the year. 

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And do they know the Earth is round?

I was in the car listening to the radio tonight. During the news I heard Bennett, the Minister of Education, talk about his new English program. “Children in Israel need to learn spoken English… The ability to have a conversation in English is a necessity today… Our children will know how to speak English and not be afraid to open their mouths when they’re overseas.”  Later I heard other speakers discussing the program “A student can do a 5-point Bagrut in English and still not be able to speak.” “Children need to speak a language before they learn to read it.”

Bennett’s quotes made the headlines, the interviewers sounded interested, but I think I’ve heard this before. Oh, right, I said it yesterday when I presented my English group to parents. And in the past to school principals. My motto “English is not just a subject in school, English is a language” basically sums it up. No, I’m not Galileo. Plenty of other people have discovered, researched and said all these things.  But now the top bureaucrat of education wants English to be taught as a language. This could get interesting.

The obvious question is – Will anything really change? Written English is so much simpler to teach. Students do exercises from a book and memorize vocabulary lists. Teachers prepare them for tests and then test them on the material they prepared. Tests can be graded quickly with numbers that go into a computer to be compared. Everyone can see which students are smarter and which schools are better. 

Now Bennett is talking about extra time for spoken English, debate clubs, oral exams. In other words noise, disagreements (maybe even political), no objective standards and all that extra time and effort! Teachers will need to learn new skills, and no one will be able to measure their success with standardized test scores. 

They will only have the satisfaction of hearing their students speak English and knowing that they made a difference in their lives.