Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Railway set as a class analysis tool?

Rainy season is about done in Japan now (so any rain we do get from now will be unexpected!) and the real heat of the summer is set to swamp us with an oppressive, humid blanket.

We had a foretaste of that at the end of last week, when our new little class dripped into Luna excited but clearly on their last legs. We are about over the "hugging mummy's leg" stage, but not quite past the "let's run around the room picking everything up" stage which also comes with the "I am going to pretend to be a rabbit for the next 45 minutes" personality!

With my own son added to the mix (once in a class he will not do anything like make daddy a proud teacher) I decided to make a pre-emptive strike and make a mess of my own classroom (and lesson plan). We have a lovely wooden train set, underused, and today it got a full work-out. The boys grabbed all the engines, of course, while the girls stood there wondering why! They shared the nice wooden characters instead, and started arranging them neatly. Now, play carried on and was self-propelled; for once they wanted me to referee disputes and to fix things. Although they asked me to do stuff in L1, I would make sure we had at least a snippet of English while I checked what they wanted and got a "please" or a "thank you" extracted. The bolder children started to insist on the same courtesies, and soon enough some "here you are" & "you're welcomes" too (which they 'remembered' from the background music we had playing quietly).

Something I was really interested to see happened after about 15 minutes; the boys had had enough ploughing around the track and wanted to re-build it. Which, to be honest, was a bit of a eureka moment! They were really saying "OK, we've got the mechanics sorted, now we want to see if we can make it work for ourselves". Replace 'grammar' for 'mechanics' and you'll see the analogy. That they tried to put the ends together or track upside down, corners going the wrong way, had bridges going nowhere, and not enough track to join the ends together = making mistakes, experimenting, making false starts, trying out ideas and arriving at dead ends...they realised this for themselves, and set about problem solving (or walking away & doing something different for a bit then coming back with fresh eyes) individually at first (even less track because somebody hogged all the corners!) and then as a team. These little engineers were doing this for the first time in any language, so I can't expect them to instantly do the same in English classes...but I can try to re-create the kind of tasks with more of a language focus down the line, and give them the glue they need to get their personal tracks organised.

I found myself needing to apologise to mums afterwards that we "didn't do much English" - but on reflection I am glad we did something completely different and that the children showed me their natural dynamic, teams & leadership skills. I can use all of that! Mums? Well, the kids came back without any tears or calls for mummy during the class (first time none of them had had to sit in & reassure anyone), the class went really quietly and yet they were humming the "clean up" song at the end...so they were more than happy.

Now to follow that up with a 'proper' lesson and not a "it's too hot" cop out!