Monday, 14 July 2014

Workshop No. 4: Getting Maximum Results in Reading While Speaking

        My second in the series of reports I have written after completing the IIECT Teacher Training Program in Tokyo run by Ritsuko Nakata. As always feedback and comments are welcome. This workshop was presented by Naoko Saito & Junko Nakamura, entitled: Getting Maximum Results in Reading While Speaking

        The primal focus of the second workshop was how to develop the reading capability of young learners, an integral part of many young learners’ curriculum. Learning to read is no easy task, especially if you’re limited to 1 hour (or less) classes once per week, hence the significant importance of building a solid foundation by learning the English alphabet, the building blocks to becoming an accomplished reader, and their relation to sounds (or better known as phonics). From the alphabet we can build onto phonics and then progressing onto words and eventually sentences. If there is no foundation everything we build around it will crumble and fall, so it’s very important to get the basic right so learners don’t fall into bad habits early on. It’s also important to note that the students should know the meaning of the words and produce them orally before they attempt reading them. However, even just teaching the basic phonics sounds can be arduous and time consuming. This lead to the development of “MAT Phonics” so that students are able to, so they told us, learn all the sounds of the alphabet in just a few lessons. We were also told that in order to accomplish this successfully the students must already know how to say the alphabet correctly.
            The “MAT Phonics” method begins by teaching the vowel sounds in conjunctions with “MAT Vowel Actions”, these gestures helps young learners remember the short vowel sounds by replicating the shape formed by the mouth when saying these sounds. Next comes the consonant sounds. The consonants are split into four sound groups: “ee”, “e”, “ei” and “Mixed”. Once the consonants are split into their respective groups we implement something called “Phonics Math”, where we subtract the common group sound from the letter sound. For example the letter “b” belongs in the “ee” group and by applying “Phonics Math” we remove the “ee” sound to achieve the “b” phonic sound. Finally we have built our solid foundation and can move onto reading words and sentences by using these phonics sounds alongside some essential key words, some of which cannot be read phonetically (also referred to as sight words) that the students should already know such as; I, you, he, her, they, this, that, yes, no etc.
            Unfortunately I have had neither the time nor the opportunity to fully integrate these methods into my lessons. I have a habit on concentrating too much time on oral communication and not enough time on reading and writing, which is an aspect of my teaching that I want and need to change for the benefit of my students. On the other hand I have tried some of the suggested activities from the workshop, such as cutting up letters to piece together again and tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with our eyes closed. I am very interested using the “Phonics Math” method but I am slightly weary that the concept may be a bit too difficult to grasp for some of the students. I guess there is only one way to find out.
            Although I did find this workshop useful and insightful, I am still slightly apprehensive about including more time to cover reading and writing skills during lessons. It’s something the students need to be exposed to on a regular basis so that they can progress, but I am fearful that there are not enough minutes in each lesson to cover everything satisfactorily. The MAT method mixes reading and speaking at the same time, and I believe this is the tact I must take to achieve a balance of reading and writing activities within my lesson plans. It is not enough just relying on the textbooks and workbooks as sources for reading and writing practice, I must diverge more from what I have become accustomed to by including supplementary reading resources such as the Oxford Reading Tree series or the Oxford graded readers.