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The purpose of this research is to evaluate the usefulness of different ways and techniques in motivating young children to learn and improve their speaking and listening skills in English as a foreign language.
More specifically, the research subjects are a class of 25 children, around five years old, who are currently learning to read in L1, their mother tongue. It would be desirable and very convenient for their formation to acquire a similar command of L2, the second language they learn, achieving thus an almost bilingual behaviour.
But in Spain -with the exception of Comunidad de Madrid, Madrid Autonomous Region- there is no bilingual teaching system. Yes there is, in Pais Vasco and Catalunya At the age of 5 years old, the study plans only provide one and a half hour per week for the full L2. Those 1.5 hours are dedicated to teach the own L2 subject. The rest of the curricula is spent with subjects given in the children's mother tongue, L1. With such limited time, it's essential to get the most profit from each and every second.
And so we come back to the purpose of this research: Investigate which learning techniques for teaching English as L2, among the different ones available, are the most effective for five year old children. In this research I've tried to answer this question through different experiences. I collected data from those experiences, analysed it, and used it to draw conclusions. I hope those conclusions are helpful in determining the content and configuration of future English L2 classes, helping children to learn more and in a more enjoyable way with the limited time they have.
Previously to begin my research, I began my work by looking for information in the web. Despite there are several blogs, forums, and other resources, I was having a hard time finding previous researches that were similar to the one I was about to perform. Many resources require registration and subscription, and for this reason they were not available to me. I had several ideas of my own since the beginning, but I broadened my point of view by looking for proven studies that helped me to improve my project. At the end, my objective was to make English learning easier for those children. I had not work with children of that age before, and I had an important mission. I wanted to go beyond typical techniques. To get results. To motivate them to learn English. And as I said above, despite I had some ideas from the beginning, I wanted to double check those ideas with existing literature so I could confirm which ideas were right, and modify those other ideas that needed some improvement.
As we know, children find difficult to focus on some task. Teachers need to motivate them, catch their interest with something that they find appealing. In addition, when teaching L2, is advisable to teach concepts that they already know from L1. We need to regularly switch activities in order to maintain their attention (as I could confirm later). They get tired, but they learn everything that is told to them. They are not afraid of making mistakes. We, teachers, must be their guide so they can use English fluently and feel comfortable in the language.
I have gathered studies through the web from congresses held in Asturias, Thesis from the University of Vigo, and others.
In that documentation we can see that there are been researches similar to mine own study in children that despite not being bilingual behave in an almost bilingual way. There is a consensus in those studies about potentiating the cognitive development in children, about putting special effort in motivating them, and to do all this with materials adapted for their age.
In particular, I have found two projects that have been relevant for my research. The first of them is from a school from La Costa. They are developing a project called CALLA (Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach) (Chamot y O'Malley, 1994) Instructional approach that provides explicit teaching of learning strategies within academic subject areas. Strategies are divided into three major categories: (1) Metacognitive (planning, self-monitoring, classifying, etc.); (2) Cognitive (note taking, summarizing, making inferences, self-reflection, etc.) and (3) Social-affective (Asking questions, cooperative learning, peer tutoring, etc.). In another school from Malaga they are developing a similar project called AMCO. I have spoken with several teachers, and they have shared with me their impressions about how the method it's performing. The purpose of those projects, to solidify a good basis in L2 that can be strengthened in later courses.
The school where I have done my research Project is a convent school, whose ownership is held by the Congregation "RR de la Sagrada Familia de Burdeos", founded by Pedro Bienvenido Noailles, French Priest in 1820, and established in Malaga in 1936. The director is Mrs Elena Carmona Aurioles, Licenced in History and teacher in the school since 25 years ago. It is placed in a residential district of the city, next to a working class neighbourhood. It is a Catholic school, which means that all its educative task is inspired by Christian values and the Christian conception of man, life and the world. Students belong mostly to medium-high class, despite there are also some of them from lower economic and social levels.
It's a charter school, integrated within the Andalucia's educational system. Despite a few schools in the area are starting bilingual projects, with a pair of subjects taught in English, that's not the case for our school. What our school do have is extracurricular activities in L2, with a motivated teaching team.
The classroom is on the first floor, next to the playground. It is cosy and warm. There is a DVD zone where films and songs can be played. In case it is needed, children can go to the digital blackboard classroom. And also to the library, which is disposed for an efficient use of book, toys and educative games, with large windows that allow the sunlight to enters, allowing for a very comfortable activity.
In general it's a good class. A bit nervous, they need to be in constant activity and are very participative. Some of them surpass the medium level, while some others are below it, but overall the global level is normal-high.
Previously to beginning the sessions period, I had an interview with the titular teacher. She was the one that provided me with all the information about how the class was conducted, which techniques she used, how were the children, which material was used, and other details. First sessions where observing the class and getting used to it. I watched the teacher and the children. I wanted to know which was the subject schedule, and what they where studying at that particular moment. Getting to know them better and be able to better focus my project. I also exchanged some words with the School English teachers and also with teachers from other schools. I have asked them to answer a few questions to learn about their opinions about L2 teaching.
For each session, I have written down the most important details, in order to analyse the information later. Observation is the variable I have paid more attention to. Observation about how children behave, and about which knowledge they acquired, at which pace and which activities were more effective.
I have followed an unstructured approach, and this has allowed more higher flexibility for gathering data. I made observations from children motivation to participation degree, passing by the fluency they were acquiring. I have also considered different approaches when watching their skills, and I have discussed with the teacher our opinions about what we saw.
We have used the same tests with all the children, but they were divided in two groups and the order was different in each group. i.e., when there was new vocabulary, one group started with flash cards and the other with a song. This allowed us to determine which order is better. All this is reflected in the project data.
At the end of the data gathering process I have made a self-evaluation to check if I had achieved what I was aiming for in the better possible way.
Below, there is an item summary of all the actions performed:
Held interviews with teachers.
Held interviews with some parents.
Questionnaires for parents to learn about their opinion.
Questionnaires for teachers to learn about their opinion.
Field notes in alternation with diary.
Real observation at group level and individual level.
Verbal reports: Self -observation and self -checklist.
The timescale of data collection:
Nov 1st-Nov 7th
Nov 8th-Nov 14th
Questionnaires (parents & teachers)
Nov 15th-Nov 21st
Some questions to parents and teachers
Contrasting activities with teacher
Nov 22nd/Nov 28th
Starting to write
Preparing individual sessions
Nov 29th/Dec 5th
Discussion with teacher
Dec 6th/Dec 12th
Activities with the children at class
Research work outside class
As I mentioned in the introduction, the purpose of this research is:
Investigate which learning techniques for teaching English as L2, among the different ones available, are the most effective for five year old children. Which ones improve their reading and speaking the most, and have the better results with them.
Once gathered all data, I got ready to analyse it, drill down, and reach some conclusions. I created a survey model for parents and a second model for teachers, and drawn the results graphically. I also gathered the information I had obtained from my interviews with the parents, and took notes from observing the children. I double checked with the teachers the results of the Peer Observation. The activities for children were classified cording to their category. Games, songs, psicomotricity, videosâ€¦
The children with whom I have worked are not bilingual. They are learning to read in L1, have only one hour and a half of English per week, but the teacher knows how to get the most from such short time span. When I entered speaking in English, I did not understand anything. They were confused, not knowing what to say or to do. The teacher advised me to explain things in Spanish, and I followed her suggestion.
It was very interesting to see that when they did not know a word, they just made it up. If they did not remember the word "arm", they just said "braced".
English videos have not been very effective. Some children understood them, but the majority got bored. For this reason I have concluded that it is preferable to program activities that catch their attention and require them to be actively involved. That is activities that require movements, corporal expressions, answersâ€¦ Such activities are the most suited for teaching L2 at this age.
After reading the surveys and seeing that some parents wanted to collaborate, I sent them home the words we had just learned that day, and told them to ask those words to their children. I also prepared some CDs with several words for them to listen at home. This was only sent to the parents that wanted to collaborate. Their children have consolidated their vocabulary, and this can be clearly seen at home.
So I have seen the importance of parents implication in their children education. However, it is also true that for some of them is more difficult than for others, because their schedule makes it complicated to find some time to be with their children.
As the course advanced I have been using English more and more. They have become more fluent and understand it better. As long as I use vocabulary adapted for their age, of course.
The use of IT it's also important for L2 learning, because it allows them to see the image and listen to the pronunciation at the same time. After that I repeat the word again, and finally it's up to them to say it. The digital blackboard is a very useful tool. They stay attentive and focused, and learn playing. They can interact with it, they get the result instantly, and it comes from a source other than the teacher. In short, it works better with activities in which they feel the star.
I believe I have managed to answer my original question. No you haven't. Time has been an important constraint. It has been a real challenge to get inside a mind their age and get them motivated. You have to change their mind slowly going to their side. At first, as can be seen in the data, results were worse than at the end, as it can be seen in the next figure. Parents have been asked at the end of the project, and their feedback has been positive.
During this time, kids have learned to stop being afraid about their ability to speak English. They feel more comfortable, more fluent in the language, and they are able to express sentences and short orders fluently. The Spanish language is now used at class very few, almost nothing. And that's something that was impossible at the beginning.
At the beginning it was complicated for them to correctly listen to the words, and difficult to get their attention. They got bored because they did not understand. I have been changing the way in which I presented the data, until I found their favourite activities.
Time constraints in the project have prevented me from reaching fully bilingualism, but I do believe I have made the learning process easier for them. The have fun with listening and speaking, they enjoy English and don't get bored. The last week we have not used Spanish.
I have seen that children who need support with L1 are also children who have most difficulties in L2. I believe this is a good start for achieving full English command in later courses.
It has been very useful to use, unexpectedly, outside the L2 hour, short sentences in English. In that way I have achieved more natural behaviour, and they feel more comfortable.
I have tried to put more attention with the children who needed more help. Including individual sessions with them in order to improve their self confidence. Some of them have not achieved it, but most of them have. Had I have more time for the project, I have liked to go a bit deeper in the phonological process, placing special attention in assimilation, substitution and syllable structure changes typical for children their age, like in L1.
It could have been interesting to introduce the ebook as a learning tool, not at this point in the course, but later, when most of them can read in L1. I believe that with its use they would acquire more fluency not only in the pronunciation, but also in reading. But it's high price puts it out of reach for some of them.
Like the other teachers, I think that the educative system in Andalucia should improve in the English area. More hours per week are needed, but also more resources. Another possible area of improving is to introduce the English language in other subjects, even if it's partially. But some teachers believe that bilingualism would affect to overall level.
Maybe it has been more difficult to gather data with children of that age, but it has been very rewarding to observe the way in which they have evolved. It has been a continuous process. The more they got involved in activities, the more attention they paid and the more they learned. In fact, I will use this same project for my Practicum II. This will allow me to investigate which differences are among children of different ages in their way and seed of learning. I can build up on this project, go deeper in some parts and advance further in the use of the IT.
The important thing is to evolve, not stay behind, and search in each moment what's better for the children according to their age, attributes, and studies level. And that's what teachers are for.
Isabel Díaz Santaolalla, children's tutor.
Rosario Cano Montilla, English Teacher.
To the pre-school education staff.
To the English teaching team at the school.
-La enseñanza de la Lengua extranjera a través de contenidos, principios e implicaciones prácticas. Joaquim Arnau. Dpto. de Psicología evolutiva y de la educación. Universidad de Barcelona.
Congreso internacional "Adquisición de Lenguas extranjeras en edades tempranas.". Oviedo, septiembre 2001.
-Constructing Meaning in another language: the child's perspective. Helena Curtain. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Congreso internacional "Adquisición de Lenguas extranjeras en edades tempranas.". Oviedo, septiembre 2001.
-La importancia de la participación de los padres en la enseñanza del inglés en Educación Infantil. Margarita Pino Juste. Dpto. de Didáctica, Organización Escolar y Métodos de Investigación. Universidad de Vigo. Beatriz Rodríguez López. Dpto. de Filologías Extranjeras y sus Lingüísticas. UNED.
- Proyecto Educativo CEIP Andalucía (2009)
- Phonological processes in ESL five years old. Terry Piper. TESL Canada Journal/ Revue TESL Canada. Vol. I N°I, enero, 1984.
PDI Activities, songs and more:
-English songs for kids. Peter&Jack. (2009) Manuel Higueras. Colegio Miramadrid.
-Programación 3° de Educación Infantil del colegio Sagrada Familia, "El Monte", Málaga