The IKEA effect

This is one takeaway I have from the last training day we had where Mike Griffin came here to present to us. More info the event is here

The IKEA effect

We like it better if we make it ourselves.

In the back of the “Finding Out” teacher’s book there are photocopiable cards that we can use for games. Recently I decided to let my students personalize them. I usually copy them and cut them without adding anything else to them to save time. Look at the photo. It takes time away from the lesson to get them made but it got my students more invested in the lesson and had them wanting to use them more in the classroom and lobby. A class of 8 will get everything taken care of in less than 10 minutes.

These cards come from “Finding Out 4”. They were made by year 4 primary school students.

Final tip, if you use regular laminating film for these the corners will be dangerously sharp. You can get a tool from Daiso to cut off the corners or use card style laminating film.

The importance of igloos

When we teach phonics, the main goal is to get students reading faster and more independently. Every phonics sound is paired with a keyword as a mnemonic device. Kids remember the sound “i” a lot better because it is paired with “igloo.”

But why “igloo”? In other phonics books, I see a lot of other “i” words – insect, ink, or sometimes iguana. Using “igloo” is not too common outside the Finding Out textbook series. “Igloo” seems like a silly choice of a word because there are not many contexts in which we can talk about igloos meaningfully. “Cats” and “dogs” are much easier to bring into conversation. So why “igloo”?

I was not inside David Paul’s head when he made the keyword choices while writing the Finding Out 1 textbook. This year, however, I stumbled onto a couple hints that make me think “igloo” is a very carefully chosen word.

At our last training day, Ryan, MY’s owner, talked briefly about pronunciation. One of the examples he offered was the difference between the English sound “n” and the Japanese “ん,” which could be pronounced “n,” “m,” or “ng,” depending on the Japanese word. It’s an odd Japanese character in that its pronunciation varies from word to word, and so distinguishing “n,” “m,” and “ng” is especially challenging for Japanese students.

There is no “n” in igloo. But here is the weird thing I noticed this year: Japanese students often mispronounce “igloo” as if it did. Somewhere around a quarter of my first-year elementary students say, even upon an initial correction, “ingloo.” Listen to my first-year student say, “ingloo.” (Jump to the 3:00 mark in the video.) I start to correct her, and she she still says, “ingaloo.” Even when this student finally gets rid of the “ng,” she holds onto a third syllable: “i-ga-loo.” The extra syllable is common for many Japanese students in many words, but “ng” in “igloo”?

Why students hear “igloo” as “ingloo,” introducing the “ng” sound in place of the glottal stop “g,” is curious. Japanese does not have a glottal stop consonant sound. My guess is that Japanese kids often add the “ng” because that is what they hear. There is no “n” in “igloo,” but there is also no glottal “g” in Japanese. Some Japanese students don’t hear the glottal stop, and so their brains substitute a more familiar sound instead. The “g” gets blurred into “ん” for these students. Weird, right?

In the past, I noticed students often mispronouncing “igloo,” but I usually didn’t fight them about pronuciation too much. As long as students are getting the “i” sound, that’s what’s important, right? So what if the rest of the word is a bit off? I’m not so sure anymore, and I am taking extra time this year to correct the “ingloo” mispronuncation with my first-year elementary students. Here is my theory:

When we teach phonics, many spelling problems later on start from pronunciation problems in the earlier stages.

If my theory right, “ingloo” is actually a big warning sign that this student may struggle with spelling and pronunciation for many years after. If I help the student hear the correct English “g” sound now, can I help the student avoid some of these problems in the future? That’s my hope.

So, yes, the “i” sound is the primary phonics target, but the phonics keywords are chosen with other goals in mind, too. Students also need to start hearing English glottal stops. They need to develop correct pronunciation for sounds and words that are easily misheard and mispronounced by Japanese speakers. David Paul’s choices of keywords in Finding Out are not random. They are intentionally chosen to challenge Japanese speakers with sounds they don’t normally encounter in their native language.

“Igloo” is something new I learned this year. “Igloo” is important. What are some of the other “igloos” among the Finding Out vocabulary?

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Changing my mindset – Silence

(Me)                    – “What is it?

(Students)         –
(silence)

(Me)                    – “Do you know what is it?

(Students)         – (silence)

A very familiar situation, isn’t it? Regardless of the situation, whether it’s a language school classroom or our day-to-day life, not getting an answer to your question is upsetting, annoying and, truth be told, sometimes infuriating. Especially in a teacher-centered classroom not receiving an answer can be seen as straight up disrespectful and rude, or worse – as a sign that your students are absolutely clueless.

Or are they? That’s what I noticed when I joined MY. Sometimes,
after presenting a new topic I realised that instead of a wave of different
responses and answers I got only silence. And, as human beings, we hate when
silence falls upon us. Have you ever been on a date that suddenly went silent
and you wished that you were anywhere but there? At first, that’s exactly how I
felt. Thinking that this grammar target is the easiest in the world I hadn’t
been prepared for my students’ silence. Upon encountering this, our first
instinct is to avoid the situation – scrap the activity, move on to something
else, hoping that the second attempt later in the class would me more
successful.

However, after several months at MY I noticed that sometimes I
used to get a different kind of silence. Not the desperate, students trying to
avoid looking in your eye’s kind of silence (“not Slytherin!”). No, there was
something special. This was a curious, hungry silence of someone who knew
exactly what was going on, but wasn’t sure how to express their feelings.

Allow me to give you an example.

In one of my elementary school 2nd grade classes we started to study occupations, and the first question we were supposed to learn is “What do you do?”. Excited, I sat down with my students and “accidentally” asked them “What do you do?”. Being MY’s loyal students, my kids immediately asked me “What do you do, Alina?”, to which I proudly announced “I’m a teacher! “.

And then silence fell upon us.

Concerned, at first, I felt that maybe they didn’t understand the
question, and maybe I should either make myself clearer or do another activity,
allowing them to think over this new mysterious grammar point. But a few second
later I saw that students, instead of avoiding my eyes, were actively looking
for answers by looking at me and at each other curiously. That second a very
simple truth for an experienced teacher suddenly hit me.

What if they don’t know how to say “student” in English?

What I did was I gave them several examples. Smiling
mischievously, I asked my students

(Me)- “What’s “hon” in English?

(Students)- “It’s book”.

(Me) – “Hm, I see. What’s baggu in English?”

(Students) – “It’s bag.”

(Me)-” Hm, I see. What’s….

(Students)- “ALINA WHAT’S GAKUSEI IN ENGLISH??”

And at that moment I felt badass like never before. And, because this knowledge was obtained through a hard thinking process where students were allowed to think things through, and got the answer only after asking other follow-up questions, I realised several months later that this knowledge was retained by them. Even last year, when I just joined MY, some of my classes didn’t keep this knowledge and we had to recycle it way more frequently than I’d wished, and yet with this class even after a long time they were still able to ping-pong “I’m a student” to your “What do you do?”.

Becoming more comfortable with silence is one of the most
fundamental changes I’ve experienced since joining MY. In fact, I might say
that I Mia Wallaced myself – now I’m able to shut up for a minute and
comfortably share silence knowing that my students are figuring out the answer,
making sure that this knowledge gained after some elbow grease will stay with
them and go into their long term memory.

An apple a day keeps the shark doctor away.

Let’s play a game! Can you imagine a shark? Can you vividly see the image in your head? Good! Can you imagine a doctor? Can you see the white coat and Stethoscope in your mind’s eye?

Excellent. Now, please try and imagine a “shark doctor”. “Huh, what’s that?” would be probably be most people’s first reaction. Is a shark doctor a shark that is a doctor, a doctor with shark-like features or something even more mysterious?

In a recent activity we combined animal/object cards with a profession card to create some fantastical combinations, some of which are displayed in the pictures below. The students were able to practice phonics in addition to multiple skills simultaneously while moving around the room, and pondering new interesting combinations in a fun manner.

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