I recently had a teacher meeting at my school. However, before I begin with that, I really should say that I run a small language school situated on Lesvos island targeting young learners and some adults. Most of our classes are general English and we do have some EAP small group work or privates too. The most difficult part of having the school is CPD for myself and my staff. The distance between our island and mainland Athens is really translated into a cost which makes it difficult to travel often, without appending the cost of leaving the school and your family.
Getting back to the today’s teacher meeting, I can say that it was really interesting because the focus was on what and how we are going to tackle this school year. I started the meeting off today using Plickers. Plickers is a survey tool which uses the whiteboard to project the questions, some cards for each survey participant to lift up which shows their answer to the question and your mobile phone which scans the answer from a distance at the front of the class; a lot like Kahoot but without the use of having X number of tablets at hand. All I did was print the answer cards on stock-card and write up some questions which got my teachers thinking about the school year and our methodology of teaching our classes. It was actually quite interesting how it worked. For one thing, the teaching time needed to get them to understand the use of the cards was quite short and the result was ok. By Ok, I mean that there was some delay in completing the questions more than I originally predicted and the gameplay wasn’t the same as Kahoot’s. Kahoot has really lifted the quality of class surveys due to the way it uses sounds and animation in the whole survey process. Overall though, I could honestly say that if you need to do a quick class survey and you don’t have access to some tablets, start using Plickers, it’s free and it works really well.
So after the class survey warm-up, we talked about incorporating guided reading circles into our classes. My teachers and I believe that if we can get our learners to read books for pleasure we have accomplished in getting them to become autonomous learners of English. Many a time we have seen the amazing transformative results of extensive reading in ESL students but getting today’s young to read is not an easy task. It’s not easy because Generation X prefers to be on their mobile phones than to sit down and take in the pleasures of holding a book in their hand. What we agreed on is to incorporate guided reading of graded readers in this year’s classes. By guided reading, we said that depending on the level of the class i.e. Young learner A1-A2, we should get the teacher to read the book in front of the class at the start of each class and then slowly get the students interacting with what was read or seen in the pictures of the books. Why not to gradually get them to read for themselves in class. For older classes, we’ll use the same graded readers for all students and we’ll be getting them to read either aloud or for themselves in class and eventually allocate reading of the book and discussion in class for homework.
Our goal is to eventually get them to read books and to discuss it in class or even carry out presentations about them to their peers. I’ve had thoughts with other teachers around the world about getting our students to present or discuss their reading with other students elsewhere via Skype as a book reading club which we want to look at in the future. This isn’t the first time we are toying with reading books. Last year we took time out with our students to take our students as a group to the library section of our school to mingle and to choose books which created a process of choosing books, going to the secretary and taking out the books on loan. We gave them a two-week loaning period and then got them to talk about the books which were read. At the start of this procedure for most of our team did quite well, and we did get some students to start reading books. Yet, most of the children stopped reading after a while and most teachers (including myself) did not insist on carrying out this process for the whole year and it eventually died out. However, for one teacher who insisted on doing the library procedure as a class, standing them up taking them to the library for most of the school year, actually got the learners to continually discuss and write short passages about the books they read. The students truly read the books and were willing to talk about them. Reflecting on this with the teacher, we concluded that the overall motivation of the teacher to get them to read and then the cultivated competitiveness of getting the students to present their reading to their peers is what motivated the children to continue to read books. In comparison to our other teachers whose motivation dropped adding the student motivation levels which were not cultivated in the class led to the class to stop the process of loaning and reading book readers.
This is what is motivating us all for this year. The fact that if we as teachers first believe in insisting on students reading books, eventually they will follow step. New school year, new start and hopefully this will be the year we train our students to love reading books.