Teachers talking together about teaching is one of the highest impact practices schools can use to boost student learning. We become better teachers when we reflect and share ideas. Since I started at MY, MY has annually set aside a number of days when we close all of our schools and gather for training. Over the years, we’ve experienced some fantastic, memorable sessions that I’ve learned from immensely and that have changed the way we teach at MY. But it’s easy to become insular if we’re always talking among ourselves, so, this year, we are branching out and inviting outside speakers to two of our training days.
Our first outside speaker this year, Lesley Ito, visited MY this past weekend. Lesley is a school owner in Nagoya and has been active in publishing and presenting around Japan for many years. On Saturday afternoon, she presented two sessions: Teaching Grammar to Children and Extensive Reading for Young Children.
I deeply enjoy conference sessions where the speaker is a couple years ahead of me in identifying and working out a problem. In the first session, Lesley shared some of her research into how children learn grammar and react to error correction. MY’s students check their own homework, after which teachers check, which has many good aspects. However, as we’ve become more and more structured in this homework check system, I’ve begun noticing, especially this year, a lot more stress among our youngest elementary students.
Usually students are smiling, energetic, excited to start class, and having a lot of fun by the end of their first month of lessons. This year, many are, but I’ve also noticed many young elementary students crying and showing other signs of stress after they arrive for lessons, even a month or two into the year, which is abnormal. Lesley’s explanation of how younger kids process grammar and error correction may help explain why this is, and it has me thinking of ways we can do better for our stressed first-graders.
Hearing Lesley talk about kids’ ER didn’t give me a similar “Aha!” moment, but it was gratifying. MY’s extensive reading program is in its third year. There’s very little researched and written about kids’ ER (and about kids’ ELT in general). While there are a few schools that can serve as models, building a kids’ ER program mostly requires trial and error.
MY still has a lot of work to improve our ER program, but seeing the benefits of ER for kids in Lesley’s presentation was a strong reminder about why we created the class. We especially need to do more to sell ER to our students and parents—yes, reading for an hour without the teacher choosing the book, checking comprehension, or grading results is an excellent way to improve language! In the past two years and two months of ER classes, we’ve stumbled on a number of ideas and practices for how to do ER with kids, and it’s nice affirmation when another respected teacher like Lesley has independently arrived at similar conclusions and adopted many similar practices.
I’m already looking forward to our training weekend with Mike Griffin in October!
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