HIST SENIOR SCHOOL Years 10 & 11 ESL BULLETIN No. 5
Dear Senior School Parents and Families,
One of the cornerstones of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) is introducing students to topics which are relevant to future educational and career goals, life skills and life-long learning. Recent topics include training and qualifications starting with focus on vocabulary, talking about difficult situations and problems and how to express oneself through speaking and writing. A safe forum (the classroom) allows students to talk about their hopes, desires and even fears. Expressing oneself is not something that is often visible among young people, but we encourage and foster this type of dialogue as healthy development.
An additional foundation of the ESL programme is collecting and analysing data through formative and summative assessments and monitoring and coaching the students on a class-by-class basis. Data drives the teaching direction as it informs the teacher of the student’s strengths, weaknesses and perhaps interest. As teachers follow the curriculum and develop a syllabus, they are also expected to enhance their students learning by adjusting the syllabus to suit the particular needs of individual students and their class. In addition, students would rarely be competent equally in all four skills, so it is usual that a student may be higher in speaking and writing than say listening and reading (as is the case with many of our students). On a biweekly basis, students are tested formally at their level for reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. All grades are collected for the whole department where they are used for analysis by individual teachers and the ESL department.
In the case of one particular year 11 class where the results of the biweekly assessments have shown that students are stronger in speaking and writing than reading & listening, the teacher has been focusing on practice tasks appropriate to improving those skills. For example, students often have trouble identifying relevant passages if the vocabulary in the questions are different than in the text. For students to learn this skill/strategy, they learn how to identify keywords in questions and relate them to the vocabulary in the text. Predicting content by examining pictures and titles of the text is another comprehension strategy which is important for developing listening and reading skills.
In another year 11 B1 and B1+ level class, students can be seen actively working in their groups on a narrative essay. The main focus of the work has been on the outline, structure and content which includes introductions, sentence starters, appropriate grammar and mapping stories using a sequence graph to guide and inform them. The primary objective of this exercise is to assist students in putting into practice the skills they have learned by analysing the language and skills required for writing a narrative essay. This type of activity promotes critical thinking and teamwork skills which students can use in their academic and working lives in the future.
At the end of every unit, review activities are necessary to consolidate knowledge learned. In the particular ESL class (above), students participated in a competition involving their quick recall knowledge as well as testing their strategic thinking skills. They were formed into groups of three with the goal of accumulating the most points possible by answering 10 questions at varying levels of difficulty: 4 easy, 3 medium, 2 hard and 1 impossible. If a correct answer was given, points were added while an incorrect answer resulted in a deduction of points. The higher the difficulty, the greater the number of points were rewarded or subtracted. In order to win, students had to think very carefully and answer with caution (to ensure they did not lose points).
The result of the competition was two teams with the same score. The students were involved in a dynamic learning experience where they were motivated to check their textbooks and notes for the correct answers to the questions. Games and competitions for all age groups, are an important technique in encouraging learning with the added incentive where ‘winning’, not just playing the game is encouraged (similar to life). As students grow and develop, they need to decide what ‘winning’ is for them, as it is different for all people.
For the year 10’s, at the beginning of each unit, students study the vocabulary in the unit and additional vocabulary from the PET for Schools practice exams. As student’s progress to higher English levels, vocabulary increases along with building connections between words in different grammatical structures. Vocabulary is remembered more easily in context so producing speaking dialogues along with writing where they can practice speaking and remember the sentence structures are more enjoyable as they are putting into practice the grammar and vocabulary which they have learned. Reading, listening, speaking and writing are more natural once students have a grasp of vocabulary per topic and the grammar to support the skills. Students like to be creative, so this system gives them an opportunity to use their creative side in communication.
For example, recent topic were money and household items. For students to be able to progress to higher the English levels, they need to build a foundation in general vocabulary with what they are familiar with and grammar structures such as the ‘be verb’, present simple, past simple, past continuous, using verbs, adverbs, comparatives and superlatives and in an order which they would naturally learn comparative and superlative.
We continue to put the welfare and needs of the students first.
At Haileybury, every child matters, every day.
Cheryl Ann McKenna
Head of English as a Second Language Programme
Haileybury Tianjin International School