Friday, September 3, 2010

Ideas collected during the OUP training days - Part 1

At the end of August I was honoured to be invited to do some sessions at the annual OUP training days in Budapest. It was a phenomenal experience to be working with so many teachers, a good hundred in the three groups of the 'Pre-school/Primary' section, so intensively.

One of the sessions I did was on 'Team-building' in which I also presented five case studies for teachers to discuss what they thought the source of the problems were, and offer some practical solutions to the teacher.

I experienced four of these cases when I was at the beginning of my teaching career, and one about a year ago, all five from teaching EFL in Hungary to pre-school or primary groups. The cases vary from teaching Roma with non-Roma children together - a very sensitive situation in Hungary - to teacherORpupil authority, etc.
Experiencing these situations have taught me some good lessons, and I wanted to continue with this process to find out what other solutions there might have been. I must say, some of them created quite intense discussion, in some of the groups, which I thoroughly enjoyed :-).

I had asked teachers in all three groups to collect ideas on what the teacher could do to solve the problem(s) with the view to posting them on this blog and reflecting on them.

In this post I decided to start with the one I went through in my first year of teaching primary kids, right after doing the IHC (International House TEFL to Adults Certificate, quite similar to the well-known CELTA). I thought of this as a useful one to start with as after doing the CELTA quite a few English teachers find themselves teaching kids classes as well, depending on the demands of the school.

And here's the description of this situation teachers were given to brainstorm solutions for:

"You have a strong need to feel you are the only source of authority and security in the classroom. You are not mean to the students and many of them like you. You don't interfere when children are mean to each other except, of course, when this takes such violent forms that it disrupts the class. The class has by now been divided into mini-groups, who don't really communicate with each other."

These are the ideas teachers came up with during the sessions, plus a couple of personal comments and some activities for each of them.
  • You (the teacher) must not allow kids to be mean to each other in any shape or form and should interfere as soon as you notice this. Letting them do it sets a bad precedent, and the message kids perceive from this is that "It's OK to be mean with each other as long as we do it quietly." I personally thought that this was one of the most important things to keep in mind in this case.
  • Regroup the class regularly so that kids get to know all their classmates: learning about what each of them is good at, what they can learn from each other and developing social skills - for example, expressing if they dislike something tactfully . Some games that help you reorganise class quickly. 1. Ask them to stand in alphabetical order (with the alphabet on the board to refer to :-)) and then put them in pairs or groups, depending on the type of the activity that follows; 2. Fruit groups: ask the class to stand up and you give a number from 1-4 or a fruit name (four different ones) to each of them. So, for example, as they stand the first child is 'orange', the second is 'apple', the third one is 'banana', the fourth one is 'kiwi', the fifth one again 'orange', the sixth one 'apple' and so on. Then ask all 'oranges' to sit together, same with the rest of the fruits. 3. Find the rest of your picture: If you are teaching, for example animals, and have 20 kids in your class, you need five different animal cards. Cut each of these into four equal pieces. Each child is given one of these cut-outs. The aim of this regrouping game is to find the missing three pieces of their animal-card without looking at what the others have. So they'll have to mingle and say/ask "I've got the head of a giraffe. What have you got?". As soon as they have found all the missing parts of their animals, they sit down together. And there you have five new groups of 4 kids.
  • Do project work regularly, so that kids get used to working together and contributing ideas to a common project, working towards a common goal. For example, in groups of 4 kids create a poster of healthy/unhealthy food by cutting out pictures of food from leaflets and magazines of supermarkets. Easy to pick up a pile on your way to school :-). The great thing about this is that, just as with the idea above with the animal-cards cut into four, it can be adapted to any topic you are teaching: environment, seasons, ... anything.
  • Use a lot of drama games and acting out stories where kids have the opportunity to play different roles. Such activities allow kids to 'hide' behind roles and feelings using, for example different voices, funny movements.
  • Once they have become familiar with a story, ask them to act it out with different feelings: sad, happy, angry, etc. Another idea is to ask them to act out the story with a different ending. In my experience, kids absolutely love doing this, especially, if this becomes a part of the story-drama routine. Both of these ideas give more room for creativity and increase level of engagement.
  • Do simple trust and empathy games every now and then. One simple idea is the 'Blind trust game' I learnt when I was part of a drama club as a uni student. Ask all kids to stand up and find a partner. One stands in front of the other. The one in the front closes their eyes and the one in the back holds the shoulders of their partner. The person holding the shoulders will have to lead their partner making sure they don't hit themselves, possibly don't touch anything and anybody. As they lead each other, it's best if you put some nice soothing music on, and see what effect it will have :-). Make sure you repeat this game later, but with different pairs to develop a sense of responsibility for and trust in each other. I did this game with pre-school kids up to adults and the changes and feelings I witnessed were absolutely awesome.
If you have tried out any of these activities, do let us know how they worked for your classes. It would also be great to hear of any other ideas you may have to help this teacher solve her problems :-)

Thank you all for sharing!

I'll get back to you with another case-study and solutions offered soon.

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