Understanding Thursdays.

Bonfire night in England has been marked by an explosion of COVID-19. As Guy Fawkes Night comes and goes, Britain goes back into lockdown for an entire month.

“And then mother took me to Grammar School; But I stopped all in the vestibule; Every time that bell would ring; Catched me playin’ with my ding a ling” – the song My Ding A Ling by Chuck Berry

Meanwhile on a murky Thursday night in a warm Dongguan, at Tungwah Wenzel International School, I found myself taking notes on Teaching ESL in the Mainstream Classroom [TESMC]. There are several modules which start from a zoomed-out overview to a much more-closer and specific look at our teaching area. Quality of teaching matters, especially for English as a Second Language learners. Collaboration is key withing all teaching environments, so here I was surrounded by technology, Chinese, English, science and other specialist teachers.

Interrelatedness of culture is important. ESL (English as a Second Language) students bring culture capital and funds of knowledge that can be tapped and used in the weapon against Minecraft and all other manner of distraction. Sat with Mr Jason, Miss Keats, Miss Cindy, and others in groups around, we all observed teachers Mr Ben and Mr Cherlito in leading a great classroom workshop.

Classrooms should set high expectations and resource in their mainstream classes. There should be a bar to jump up to, rather than a bar to meet level. Expectations should increase to allow students to learn the language through the language and learn about that language. There is a plethora of learning theories, many tried, tested and tired, but a good teacher should know that there’s always more out there to bring about a good learning context.

Oral and written language must be treated separately. In our youth we make sounds before we scribble words. Those sounds and phonetics become words, sentences and eventually conversation. We crawl, walk and then run – until we get old enough to walk, drink beer and crawl again. Writing needs codes. We start with a few letters, then we pair a few more, and we build words. Following that a few simple sentences, and then they expand bit by bit, until we’re banging out sonnets like Shakespeare was our teacher. Some of the braver kids that write carry on writing and move on to be Dan Brown or Anne Tyler. They all started with the ABC though. Patterns and a need to make technical and abstract meanings fit educational contexts a little before we hit our double-figure years. Why do we do it? The world is demanding and so are parents. Teachers backed by educational curriculum standards encourage students. Students push themselves – or not. Accountability is something learned or not within teenage and early years. For some it takes a little longer than others. Some will never learn it.

Teachers and the school community adapt and evolve support language, not just to improve students, but to find strategies relevant and achievable for the classroom, and in this instance the ESL classroom. Improve our teaching, improve our target students. With that we must recognize that not all students have the name needs or motivations. There are many variables that need to be taken into account to ensure students participate in schooling and beyond.

What do I hope to gain from the course? Self-enhancement, bettering one’s self, being more invaluable and experienced in order to help and work closer with my colleagues. Yes, all that and some. Actually, I really want to understand my students better.

Students cross a broad range of identities. We all have multiple identities. I act differently around colleagues, friends, family, football friends, near strangers, and other groups. This is life. We are social butterflies and act accordingly to comfort surroundings and situations. What identities do we have?

Think about diets. Do we eat differently or behave in varied ways? Perhaps around vegans, vegetarians, American Embassy-eaters (that’s McDonald’s) and so on. How much respect can you give a total fructivore? Does a sister command a special response that is distinctive to that of an aunty or a mother? What’s the atypical reaction to dad? Relations matter. The position within the family, the runt of the litter is that kid that gets the passed down Manchester City F.C. shirt, according to their big bad bold brother.

If you want division, look no further than religion, it’s an age-old area of conflict. Don’t trust me? Google it. Even your choice of search engine can separate you. Sorry Baidu, you just won’t do for me! Age category, maturity, sexuality (LGTGB+ etc), members of book clubs, groups, communities (C’mon CITY!), neighbours (noisy or other), sports, language-speakers, ethnicities, creeds, hobbiesprejudices, Marvel or DC comics Star Wars or Star Trek; Trekker or Trekee… The list goes on. And on. And on, and on, and on and on. With all that in mind it is clearly difficult to understand your colleagues, let alone your students. We still must push on (gently, softly or otherwise) and probe ways to understand any potential barriers to learning and find range and depth suitable for extraction. Some negatives can be turned into positives. Some cannot. Here as good teacher is digging for positivity and the factory in each student that manufactures optimism. What do students struggle with? Locating a pencil case? Someone looked at them with a squint? An ant walked into the classroom doing ballet?

Some of the roles or aspects of having multiple identities will cause internal conflicts, doubts, and worries. One place that I feel tensions are my political views and belief in human rights. So, to be in America or China, I must respect the head gaffer and the regime that rules the joint. As a guest, I can only say or do so much. Imagine being a Chinese kid flung into international education. Will that kid’s neighbours or young relations also be in that same international school setting? They’ll be strengthening and weaking on one and the other. You can’t follow two systems perfectly. ESL students, a widely used terms for many nationalities, at a school that uses English as a primary target language are privileged to expand their cultural window, but they may find their own cultures closing from them. As they develop language for an increasing range of purpose of contexts, their world is changing in ways that they may or may not notice.

For an Irish kid learning at an ESL school in Wales, who studies only in English, they may not be exposed to much Gaelic language other than that at home, infrequently. The Welsh kid at school may be using English at home, attending Welsh classes online and immersed in a bilingual environment at home. The Chinese student on exchange from Dongguan to Aberystwyth may get to speak English, Welsh and a spot of Chinese with fellow students. They will all face improvements in their English language, but which students will improve their native tongue? What range of langue will they be exposed to? For the ESL teacher, this, like many other factors sits outside the scope of control. Awareness of these facts is important. Which students enjoy the same access to range of language as their peers? Is immersion in English to the detriment of other tongues? Do some students slip, trip and flip-flop from one school to the next? I know of at least a handful of students that I’ve taught that are in their third primary school in as many years. I shouldn’t judge because I also attended three primary schools as a kid. However, I didn’t have the pressure of a second language… unless North versus South Mancunian dialect was it. Barmcake or muffin?

The evening featured acronyms galore. EMI wasn’t Electrical and Musical Industries records; it was English as a Medium of Instruction. When CALD was mentioned, I expected to hear the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, but it turned out to mean Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.

Other notes (not typed up in any depth yet):

WHAT FUNDS OF KNOWLEDGE MIGHT AN ESL STUDENT BRING TO THE CLASSROOM?

Understand classroom exposure (Chinese vs Int’l); different opinions about the future (environment; conservation; search engine exposure) …

LANGUAGE/COMMUNICATION – visual artifacts / bilingualism / translation /

/ EXPERIENCE/WORLD KNOWLEDGE – A.I. / surveillance / icons / cultural exposure /

/ ATTITUDES OF FUTURE

/ WAYS OF THINKING – Wikipedia/media literacy / transfer of knowledge / attitudes in academic context / curiosity

/ MULTIPLE IDENTITIES cultural norms / family backgrounds / expectations / regional knowledge / local

Possible consequences of failure to acknowledge the above include neglect of diversity and cultures. Value it. Ignoring the valuable resource will limit their world view. Disenfranchising and discouraging, devaluing, disempowering – don’t handicap

Attitude of a teacher: transition / support / how do students feel in terms of students who finish first or take longer? /

My homework (A.K.A. the between module activity) is as follows. Select one class student. Understand their life, experiences, impacts on their ability to learn, hobbies, favourite biscuits, and so on. I can use any strategy to do so. Perhaps an untargeted questionnaire, a survey of the class, discussions with other teachers, an insight from their family, a photo of their favourite thing at home and so on… What do they miss when they’re at school? The old who, when, what, why, how, do, etc scenario is with me until next Thursday’s class. That student’s funds of knowledge will be valuable to teaching them.

And with that, I’m sat listening to Chuck Berry live and reading about things other than books that students can read to enhance their reading skills. Books are the gateway to knowledge, but in these modern times books are not the only medium for reading. In the age of information, words are all around us. Students should be encouraged to read (digital or hard copies):

books written by each other

dictionaries and thesaurus

play scripts

road signs

maps and atlases

song lyrics

poetry

travel brochures and leaflets

blogs

websites

encyclopedias

newspapers

magazines

social media and micro posts

catalogues and listings

programmes of events/sports meetings/games

manuals and ingredients on food labels

recipes

Anyway, that’s all for Thursday night. Let’s hope this COVID-19 scatters away soon. Keep busy. Eat a toffee apple for me and some Parkin Cake. I had to make do with McVities Hobnobs (the ones without chocolate). Stay strong. Peace and love x

John

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s