Thursday, August 6, 2009

I Like Peter. I Like Jane.

Goodness me, it has been so long! Many apologies for the long absence of updates - been working on several projects at school and I have also recently gone back to uni.

But here is a little update on what I am currently working on at school. It is a reading program with my 2A learners (low proficiency learners). When I took them last year, most of the children barely knew their alphabet. We spent the whole year just learning the sounds and shapes of A - Z.

I introduced Peter and Jane to them last year (will write a lengthier post on this Peter and Jane series soon) but they only started reading the books on their own this year. They are familiar with the characters and could name Peter, Jane, Pat, Mummy, Daddy.

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Peter and Jane books have been around for over 40 years. I grew up following their adventures at the beach, at the sweets shop, playing with Pat in the water and enjoying great picnics at the farm. The lifelike illustrations are difficult not to love and children are always eager to turn the pages so they could see what Peter and Jane are up next. The books are graded 1A - 12A, with each level introducing keywords gradually. The keywords are repeated in various contexts, making it easier for children to learn how to read these words without realizing that they are actually learning how to read.

I made copies of the book and stick them up on the softboard. Every morning from 720 - 740, I sit with the children as we read 3-4 pages of the book. It usually takes them about a week to read 4 pages fluently.
My main objective is for them to achieve reading fluency. I will go into comprehension later. At the moment, we are only focusing on recognition of keywords and being able to read the words out loud with confidence. I personally feel that once a child is able to read with confidence, he or she will be further motivated to explore the text on his or her own.

I will document the steps of doing this reading program in greater detail. I think most schools in Malaysia are supplied with at least one set of the Ladybird Peter and Jane series so do give it a try.

Monday, January 19, 2009

*Spelling & Dictation Every Week*

One of the ways to teach learners who have English as their second or third language is by having spelling and dictation every week. You can give 5 words per week for Level 1 students - Yr 1,2 & 3 and or your Level 2 Yr 4,5 & 6 weak classes. Giving them spelling, helps them to remember the words better. So the next time they encounter the words in their textbooks or exercises, they know what the words mean.
What i did for my better class is by giving them 10 words every week. All written out on a piece of white board. I have pasted the board at the back of my class where I have my own English corner. =) All the words are taken out from the textbook. Then, I have my best student to help me write out the Chinese meanings of those words. Students must know the meanings in both languages to enhance their understanding.
So everyday when I enter the class, the students will turn their chairs to the back and read the ten words and dictation behind until the day I carry out my spelling and dictation activity. It only takes a few minutes to do so.
One week of drilling will help students to memorise and recognize words in an instant.

Program students to have Spelling Every Tuesday and Dictation Every Thursday

Ask the help of the good students to translate and write Chinese if you do not read and write Chinese (like me ;) )

Dicatation is when you read out the sentences and students write them down in their books.
Not recommended in a weak class.
So if this method works in improving students reading and proficiency in English, do let me know ;) ! Ok all the best!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading for Comprehension: Using The Keywords Strategy.

As learners progress from word to sentence to text level, my concern shifts from learners' recognition of words to learners' comprehension of the text. Comprehension is crucial as it affects learners motivation in reading. It is also one of the skills tested in public examinations.

I recently tried out a new reading activity with my Year 5 Rose. Most of the learners in this class can read quite well but are unable to answer comprehension questions. I later found out that they do not have the neccesary skills to decode a text. For example, many of them can recognise wh-questions but are unable to say what information each of the wh-question seeks for.

So my lesson was intended to familiarise the learners with the wh-questions. I think this is the most basic need for text comprehension. I also wanted to teach them the strategy of using textual clues when answering comprehension questions.

Here is what we did;

1. In groups, learners tried reading the text (from their textbook) on their own.

2. As they read, I wrote five comprehension questions on the board, making sure that I underlined the keywords. For example (the keywords are in bold here as I cannot seem to underline using blogger).

1. Where was the charity sale held?
2. How many cupcakes were sold?

3. I revised the Wh-questions with the learners. We all agreed that who usually asks about a person, where usually asks about a place and when usually asks about time.

4. I then demonstrated to the class how the keywords could be used to help me find the answers from the text. For Question 1 for example, I told them to look for the phrase, "charity sale" and the word "held".

5. As the learners point to me the sentence in which the phrase "charity sale" and the word" held" appeared in, I asked them to read the sentence aloud.

6. I then asked the learners to reread the question posed, which was "Where was the charity sale held?" By this point, at least 2-3 learners in each group would have been able to point out the answer.

7. It was only after the learners have attempted to answer all the questions that I discussed the text with them. I also invited three learners to read aloud the text (I am still finding a better way of conducting this reading aloud session).

I find this direct teaching of a reading strategy helps to engage my learners in the reading comprehension activity for a longer period. Previously, I used whole-class discussion method but most learners appeared to 'switch off' after a while. Putting them into smaller groups where they could discuss for answers - and be rewarded as a group when they are able to provide correct answers - encourages better participation from the learners.

However, reading strategies need to be consistently reinforced so results may not be apparent after just a few trials. I will certainly try this activity again in the next few weeks to assess its true potential.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Teaching The Alphabet

One of the challenges in teaching reading is having learners of different capabilities. In my 2A class (equivalent to a Pemulihan class), I have some learners who have acquired basic vocabulary such as shapes, colours, numbers and greetings. A handful, however, have yet to master the alphabet.

Without a mastery of the alphabet, the learners find it difficult to complete even simple tasks such as copying and spelling. Therefore, I have decided to put these learners in my focus group in the next few months and try out the following:

Teaching the alphabet to young learners.

1. Invest in a phonics music CD. I bought one from MPH (produced by Pelangi) for about RM15. The songs teach learners the English sounds of all letters in the alphabet.

2. Sing one or two songs at the beginning of the lesson. Create a distinct hand gesture for each sound. Repeat this in each lesson, using different letters. You may want to put a limit at 3-4 letters each week.

3. Have picture cards of items beginning with the letters you have done. Paste these cards all over the classroom. For example, after having taught the letter 'a' (taught here, meaning having exposed the child to the sound of the letter 'a' as well as how the letter 'a' looks like), you may have pictures of apples, ants and arrows in the classroom.

4. Take time to spell the words on the cards out loud, emphasizing on the target letter. For example, when spelling m-a-t, elongate the sound of /m/. You will notice that after a while, learners will be able to guess the sound of words by just looking at the first letter. For instance, a child who sees the word "moon" might not be able to read the whole word but he may be able to produce the "mmmm" sound because he recognises the initial /m/ sound.

5. Allow learners to form the letters using different materials. Crayons, colour pencils and plasticine work wonders. Introduce learners to different ways of writing the letters. You may print out the letters in different fonts or write them in wriggly or zig-zaggy manner. If your learners can recognize these wriggly letters, it shows that they have understood the consistency of each letter shape.

6. Motivate the learners by having a competency chart in the classroom. Write the children's name and have columns for all the letters. Once a child has mastered a particular letter, allow him or her to put a tick on the column.

Let me know how this works in your classroom!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Managing First Lesson of the Year.

School begins this Monday and I am very, very excited to see my kids again. I bet they have all grown inches! First day lessons could become a struggle for beginning teachers. We may find ourselves in a new class with a new set of learners. Most of the time, these learners are not even ready to learn and seem to still be in their vacation modes.

However, I believe that we could overcome these challenges and conduct a simple reading activity on the very first day itself. Here are my plans for Monday:

1. Greet learners and have a sharing session about the holidays. On the whiteboard, write out names of places of interests that they may have visited as well as activities that they may have done (e.g fishing, swimming, painting). Put the nouns and verbs in different columns to encourage understanding of word class.

2. Discuss plans for year 2009. I will set my expectations and write them on the board, in short phrases. For example, I may write "talk softly" or "hand-in homework on time". Learners will then add to the list, setting their own goals and expectations for year 2009. Keep the expectations between five to eight.

3. I will explain to learners that when people make a promise to do something, they usually have to put it in black and white. I will then write my pledge for the class for the year 2009. For example, I may write, "This year, I will take 5R on a picnic once a month." I will then put this on a piece of paper and put my thumb print on it, to ceremoniously seal the promise.

4. In their exercise books, learners will write their pledges for the year. For example, "This year, I will read one story book every week." They may make two or three pledges before putting their thumb prints on the pages.

By the end of this lesson, the learners would have read five to six phrases and attempted to write two or three full sentences. The words and sentences from this lesson are practical words that they commonly hear in their daily lives (how many times in a year do we say "Talk softly!" or "Hand-in your homework!"? Countless!) so why not make them see the words in print?

The above activity is set for my year 5T and 5R classes. For the younger children, I will discuss with the children and let them decide on a set of expectations and acceptable behaviours. I will then write these out on a manila card and allow all the children to put their thumb prints on the card. We will then read aloud the pledges.

For example:

"We will try to talk softly"
"We will try to hand in our homework on time"
"We will try to bring our books to school"

The learners may not be able to read all the words, but at least by the end of the lesson, they would already be able to read the phrase "We will try" and other familiar words like "talk" "homework" "time" "books" and "school". Five words in total is not bad for a low proficiency class!

All the best for your first day!

Arrange Me!

I have played this game a few times with my low-proficiency learners and found it very effective. Learners work together in pairs to rearrange words so that they form comprehensible sentences. I placed the cards leaning on the blackboard and each pair could only work on a set of word cards at any one time. Once they are done rearranging the words and writing them out, they could trade their cards for another set. My kids love competing against each other to be the pair with the highest number of correct sentences.

1. This activity may be used to reinforce the spelling of familiar words.
2. In order for learners to rearrange the words, they will have to read and understand (or at least guess) the meaning of the words.
3. Working in pairs encourage shared-reading between peers, which may increase learners' motivation in reading.

Write out 10-15 sentences on strips of manila card. For low-profiency learners, it is important that the sentences are familiar. In my case, I used sentences from stories we read in the classroom.

Cut out the words and label all the words in each set with a number. This prevents the words from getting mixed up.

Place the sets against the blackboard or in various places in the classroom. Giving learners the opportunity to move around the classroom makes this activity more enjoyable.

Supervise as learners rearrange the words.

Friday, January 2, 2009

READERSachievers Background

How READERSachievers came about.

I worked part-time at a child development center for several years while pursuing my degree in B.Ed (Primary TEFL) but only started teaching formally ten months back. At the child development centre, I learned the basics of quality childcare and early language development. I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to work with children as young as three up till those in lower secondary. Upon graduation, I was posted to SJKT Saraswathy in Sungai Buloh and have been teaching there in the last ten months.

I am currently teaching three Year 1 classes and two Year 4 classes. Most of my young learners are of the lower proficiency level and many of them come from non-English speaking homes. Being a new teacher, I first entered class with much zest and many ideas for fun language-building activies. I soon learned that many of my learners have very poor reading skills, and was even more horrified to find out that a handful of my Year 1 learners did not receive proper kindergarten education.

Not being able to read soon became a huge stumbling block in my learners' development of English. We could not do many of the activities suggested in the curriculum because they do not have even the basic language needed for the activities. I decided to go back to square one and to try building on the reading skills.

The challenges however, grew. Among others, I face;

Time constraint
Teaching in a vernacular school, I have shorter teaching and learning hours with the learners. I only see my Year 1 classes twice a week, an hour for each session. Even so, I usually have to set aside 5-10 minds for housekeeping and behaviour management.

Learners of diverse competency levels
Although the learners are streamed into different classes according to their competency levels (across all subjects), the diverse in each class is still overwhelming. In the 'end' classes especially, I realize that the gap is tremendous. Some learners are able to read a few words, some are just able to recognise sounds of letters while a few are still having problems with letter shapes. The learners also have different levels of exposure towards English at home. Those who listen to English being spoken regularly (from parents or television) usually understand instructions better and are more ready to read than those who only 'hear' and 'see' English in school.

The need to catch up with syllabus
At the end of every term, I have to prepare my learners for examinations so there is a need for me to catch up with the syllabus. If I spend too much time building on the basics of reading, I will not have the time to expose my learners to all the items outlined in the syllabus. Yet, there is no point in whizzing through the syllabus if my learners cannot read and understand what is taught.

The non-existence of an intensive remedial program
Where I teach, there are no intervention programs to help learners who are illiterate in English. Many of those who cannot read and who receive little help with reading at home progress through their primary school years without much progress in English. As a result, we have twelve-year olds who struggle when reading even simple sentences. I would like to design and conduct my own remedial program with my learners but first I will have to find a way around the challenge of time constraint.

Do you face any other challenges when it comes to the teaching of reading skills to young learners? Drop a comment and share them with everyone!

I hope that through READERSachievers , I will be able to overcome the challenges above. From this project, I hope to collect useful and practical tips for teaching basic reading skills and document them for beginning ESL practitioners. Imagine having a manual of tried and tested, detailed instructions on exactly HOW TO TEACH CHILDREN TO READ, from letters to words to phrases to sentences to paragraphs to compositions to short stories to novels.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

READERSachievers says Hello!

What is READERSachievers?

READERSachievers is part of my effort to document my experiences as an English as a Second Language (ESL) practitioner. I currently teach English in a vernacular primary school in Sungai Buloh, Malaysia.

READERSachievers is designedto assist beginning ESL practitioners like me in helping our learners to read. We will share our experiences in the classroom, especially those related to materials development, teaching tips, motivation techniques and other areas that shall help us help our children to read. I will document my own experiences here and I hope you will do the same too.

Leave a message on the comment box if you are interested to contribute to this blog and I shall put you as a READERSachievers team member.

READERSachievers focuses on the development of early reading skills so it will probably be most useful to kindergarten and primary school ESL teachers. However, secondary school teachers, parents, caregivers and anyone with fantastic ideas for building basic reading skills are most welcome to contribute.