TESMC: Pitt & Freeman vs. Spacey

Good (insert time here) / Hello / How do,

“Ben told the class that nouns are sexy.  I couldn’t agree more.” – Mr Lee, 2020/21 cohort, TESMC, TWIS

Noun groups are everywhere. ESL (English as a Second Language) learners may find ordering tough, whereas a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, may find that their description of the fictional Scottish public and private boarding school of magic for students aged eleven to eighteen child’s play. The British magical community’s Ministry of Magic may not be an ideal place to start an exploration of noun groups, that most specific to English topic, but we can begin here with a dabble into the magical realm of TESMC class with Mr Ben. It’s our seventh class, hence the title.

“Many a man has a treasure in his hoard that he knows not the worth of. (Sellic Spell)” – Beowulf, J.R.R. Tolkien

Perspectives on Vocabulary by John Polias, Nominalisation, meaning making in the written realm by Brian Dare, and How accessible are the texts we use by John Polias made for riveting reading. They kept me up into the wee hours and on my toes. Why? They made me question my teaching and my selection of textbooks. Hugely. I’ve always been a fan of a DK Board game called Very Silly Sentences. This game helps to expand the vocabulary and manipulates verbs, adjectives and nouns. The idea of manipulating the nominal group needs base knowledge. That is to know the density of meaning slapped together inside a written text by giving numbers to nominalization per clause. Heavy stuff. Really heavy packed stuff. As a teacher we want to see the evolution of a student’s writing. It must go from: ‘It is a cat.’ We’re aiming to add weight to the sentence. Students, like adults, should be spouting Shakespearian cat descriptive pieces.

“foul night-waking cat” – The Rape of Lucrece, Sir William Shakespeare

If we sit our student’s first grade work alongside the same student’s work as they enter their early teenage years, you will see progress. The same can be done if we take week two work, week ten and week 17 work. Analysis is easy because it is reactive. Our job is much more proactive though. We’re targeting an end product. The factory assembly line of our classes must be targeted to show our desired outcomes of language learning. The crux of the matter is vocabulary extension: It’s a pretty cat. John Polias makes some strong cases for playing detective and taking visuals aside for as good old interrogation.

Fellow hair-challenged Brian Dare points out the pros and cons of refined writing. The high end of the mode continuum gets a fair treatment. He points out that suddenly students are less likely to be thinking on their toes. Students should be encouraged to both rewrite spoken text and speak in different ways about written text. It has to be bidirectional and the transpositions should become the tools of meaning-making in language. Going back and forwards, inverting, flipping it a bit, and relocating words here and there will provide the necessitous scaffolding. Do you remember the joys of messing with words and creating something clean and trim? The mode continuum gives our students something to blend and bend as a way to develop knowledge about language.

Explain these terms to a student without using the terms: common noun, proper noun, abstract noun, concrete noun, countable noun, uncountable noun, compound noun, collective noun, singular noun and plural noun. Respective examples could include window, Manchester, love, house, bike and bikes, rice, textbook, crowd, monkey, and babies. Easy enough, right? Now explain the function and use of a noun group. A noun group is a group of words relating to, or building on, a noun. There may be a pointer (a, an, this, that, these, those, my, your, his, her, its, our, dad’s, Mr Ben’s), one or more adverbs and adjectives. Before and after the main noun. The pre-modifier and the post-modifier offer ample opportunity for exploration. Referring back and forwards, within a sentence is a highly useful skill and tool for an up-and-coming writer. Adding weight and detail to the noun expands the information about the noun itself. It offers a clearer mental image. With these skills, our students can tell us much more about a cat. It’s a pretty fluffy cat with a wonderful temperament. The students are now armed with magic wands to cast spells on their noun structures. Effective writers need detail. Expanding the nominal group should be a weapon of choice.

Note: Nominal means as planned, or as named, or as written (in the mission plan). It does not mean normal.

Synonyms and antonyms are keys and tools to create colourful and abstract language. They’re also ideal for adding dimension to concrete dialogue and reports. One of my earliest English class memories was at Clayton Brook Primary School in Manchester. I, under ten years of age, and my peers were tasked with finding as many synonym words for the words good and bad. Many students talked about it. Some sought books. The tall loner in the corner dived like goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and grabbed something useful. The dictionary fell into my lap. I was hooked. My personal vocabulary grew from word hunts, games, and reading. Mr Jones, class 5AJ, at Chapel Street Primary School, where I later attended, had me constantly finding words, or even searching for made up words, which made me look up similar words. These strange games certainly gave me reasons to live amongst the pages of discovery.

Here on vocabulary played a part. Even to this day, I enjoy expressions, terminologies, and styles of writing because the words within are shouting at me like conversations and whisperings that I must hear. According to TestYourVocab.com, most adult native test-takers range from 20,000-35,000. The average 8-year-old native speaker already knows about 10,000 words. Foreign test-takers tend to hit 2,500-9,000 words – and even by living overseas that only tends to hit 10,000 words. As I slotted my answers into tick-boxes and scored an estimated 32,700 words for my vocabulary size, I realized how few of the 300,000 entries into the Oxford English Dictionary that I probably know. In reality knowing one word from the 20,000 printed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t all that bad (and in truth, just 35,000 are useful). Are the website’s findings accurate? Well, entering your data is based on honesty and over two million surveys doesn’t accurately reflect a global population of umpteen billion people. Also, who uses the internet?! Their website’s methodology, the nitty-gritty argues that their accuracy is around ±10%, so in my instance, I could be closer to 35,970 or 29,430 words. Either way, it’s a curious little tool of play. I’m not showing off. Not at all. It gives me a good reflection on how many words I have yet to experience or learn. The bad news, however, is that their findings say middle age is where vocabulary retention tends to end. The best reading I found on their website related to reading habits. They found that reading habits directly increases vocabulary growth. It may sound like, as my Dad would put it, “stating the bleeding obvious” but it goes a long way to reinforcing the habit of reading at an early age. This website is part of an independent American-Brazilian research project. The decade-old findings of China show that the average vocabulary size here for English as a Second Language users was 6,636 words. Now, considering the education boom in China, that could be higher now. The website is an indication but not a science. It made me think about how many base words we need to learn a language. But, then how often do we use the words and do we lose the words? Who do we talk with that make us use new words? Are some words specific to some scenarios? Oh, the endless questions! Where on Earth is Anglesey?

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.”- Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, writer (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966)

Textbooks need selection. Most of us read reviews and even more of us get handed a reading list and stack of books tall enough to paralyse a student’s passion for reading. Trying not to overwhelm a young kids with a stack of books is a good start. As John Polias points out we need to support the students. If I throw the Welsh town of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch at you and say read it. With that name of the Welsh village just over the Menai Bridge, you can unlock the language of Welsh, possibly. Possibly not. That’s where teachers must support every textbook handed to a student. A book without support may scare away passion for reading.

“Our song escapes, on little silver discs; Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits” – Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Too long, didn’t read? Well, that’s half the problem. If reading isn’t for you, how can reading be for someone else? And if reading isn’t a habit, how can writing be a skill? I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Am I a sinner? Maybe. It just never grasped my attention. So, now, I believe that I must read it. I won’t read it alone though. I’ll make it my personal mission to read it with each and every student of my grade four class. Maybe they have read it in Chinese. Maybe in English. But, how did they enjoy it? I’m sure we can enjoy the magical journey as one. If you don’t have one of the Harry Potter books to hand and you want to dig on into the wider world of English, check out the below sites:

The Economist (Johnson blog: named after Samuel Johnson, who made dictionaries. This blog is all about the use and misuse of language, with its ripple effects)

FreeRice.com teaches and tests vocabulary whilst donating 5 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme.

Language Log. Simply put, Mark Liberman, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a linguist with love of words. His Language Log website is a ticker-tape of blogs, posts and news all relating to language. Expect popular culture, controversy and history.

Dictogloss: a language learning technique. Used to teach grammatical structures. The teacher prepares text examples that need to be studied. The teacher reads it. The students just listen. No pens allowed. Next the students lift up their pens. Notes must be taken. By forming small groups, students can work together to reconstruct the text example using their knowledge, notes and teamwork. Afterwards reflection comes as students compare their various versions. With respect to my Grade 4 class, they tried this task twice and each time, they sailed the rough seas. Grade 4 are very capable sailors when the going gets tough. For extra experience, add a Powerpoint presentation whereby the words (and phrases) that you feel need noting pop up as you read it. It can reinforce student ability. After students become familiar with the dictogloss methods, take away the option of teamwork. First try paired working and then ask the students to work solo. This can also promote confidence.

“Fate goes ever as fate must.” – Beowulf, Seamus Heaney

As students move through schooling they will encounter different registers with full expectation to engage them accordingly. The use of nominal groups to enhance and even make complex text can be explained and shown to be more than useful. The dictogloss is there to be used as a tool, but not for exactitude. How many things change through new interpretation and retelling? Language and writing, like speaking can all be about exploration. As teachers we are captains of ships and we must wake our hypnopompic students with a sparge of word play. Our fuliginous fluffy funambulist of a feline with a wonderful temperament must exercise its vibrissae to avoid any pother as it balances on the tenebrous tightrope of life. With that, I end my braggadocio writing.

“Fate will unwind as it must!” – Beowulf, Burton Raffel

Goodbye, for now.

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