Saturday, 12 November 2016

Aimal Farm Revisited - Using graded readers across the curriculum - Part I

According to teachers, there are two main reasons for reading: reading for pleasure and reading for information. According to students, a third one should be added: reading because the teacher wants them to.

For a number of years, students of English at different levels in different countries faced the task of reading books for retelling or for answering a set of written questions. Consequently, most of them (the only possible exception being the very few who liked reading in any language anyway) had a negative attitude even before starting the book. And, why deny it, most of us also had a negative attitude as this kind of reading only produced endless papers for correction or half a class of desperate efforts to get some coherent facts from the weaker students. How could we make reading more enjoyable?

Reading should be an interactive process. Interaction implies reception and expression of messages but it only takes place when interest is present. To promote interaction in any language, we must maintain attention and participation among the students, thus facilitating the processes of inference, prediction and perception of the message being communicated. Students should be given the opportunity to relate their own lives and experiences to the second or foreign language and to what is read in that language.

To provide greater interaction with the text and among students, group work should be stimulated. In this way, the students will have the opportunity of working together learning not only from what they have read but also through working with other reflective individuals. Through the checks and contributions of others, they learn to relate bodies of knowledge meaningfully to make cultural observations and to develop richer interpretations of the text. It will be up to the teacher to decide how large or small the groups should be or whether her students will find it more profitable to work individually at their own pace and pool their ideas together at a later stage.

But above all we must keep in mind students' interests and stimulate that interest through meaningful activities from the earliest stages if we want them to continue reading.

To integrate reading experiences and developing language control, reading should be linked with purposeful communication, both oral and written, and it is our duty as teachers to provide our students with meaningful tasks associated with the reading, develop activities which encourage them to communicate within their competence and create a classroom environment where they feel free to experiment with the language and express their own ideas. One way of doing this is integrating the readings we do in the English class with other subjects across the curriculum.

What follows is the result of experimenting with different tasks for a few years trying to make my upper-intermediate students enjoy (or at least appreciate) one of my favourite books: "ANIMAL FARM". This book can be related to Literature, Citizenship, History and History of Philosophy. And the age group with which it has been used is that of 2nd. Bachillerato.

There are several techniques that are used to carry out the different tasks that the students will have practised and concept they are familiar with through the study of citizenship in ESO.

Why use discussion?

Discussion has been at the heart of education for thousands of years. It helps learning because it encourages students to voice opinions and support their point of view in a Group so ideas are shared and developed. Members of the group have to learn to listen to other people’s perspectives and ideas, consider them and respond. This is a central aspect of the skills that the Citizenship Programme of Study expects young people to develop.

Discussion is always more than just chatting because it addresses a serious matter and aims to develop a deeper understanding of the problem or issue. And young people can begin to realise the difference between just stating a view and being prepared to justify and defend it.

Why debate?

Debate is part of any democratic process. It also underpins the development of reasoned argument and an appreciation of other people’s points of view. Debate is a structured process which requires students to listen to arguments, contribute and question before making a decision about their own point of view.

Many young people are strong proponents of one point of view and are unwilling to listen to others. Creating a formal environment provides a structure in which they can develop skills which help them to appreciate that other people may have valid ideas. The formality itself can be helpful in the classroom because it provides a structure for a lesson and gives both evidence and arguments to support a point of view.

Debate can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways. Within a lesson, it can be used to sum up a topic and show a democratic decision. It could also be used in an almost impromptu way if students are demonstrating strong divergence of opinion as it makes them think hard about the arguments on each side.

Why investigate?

When students leave school, they need to put into practice the skills and knowledge that they have acquired during Citizenship lessons. Voting, shopping or looking for a job requires investigative skills and the use of knowledge to make sense of very different kinds of information. Investigation in school not only helps students to develop these skills but can also capture their imagination. It has specific advantages in managing information and perspectives, learning and transferring skills and helping students to become independent learners. Investigation provides the opportunity to think about issues, to consider appropriate data, and to see how looking at things from different perspectives leads people to come to different conclusions. Investigations can teach students that there may be different explanations, and that different ‘models’ can be used to explain data in different ways.

Learning and transferring skills

It is possible to teach students such higher order skills through investigation and there is evidence of both deeper understanding and greater transferability when compared with strategies which simply require students to acquire knowledge (Shayer and Adey 1994).

Becoming independent learners

In investigative work students can be put in a position where they have to make their own decisions about the selection, collection and classification of evidence. They may take part in a group activity where leadership and collaboration are at a premium. This may involve, for example, investigating and reporting back on a particular issue. In such situations, students learn to make their own judgements and to test them out within safe boundaries. With help, they can learn to use appropriate strategies and to evaluate their own progress.

Motivating students

Investigative activities can be fun and therefore motivate a wide range of students.
Teachers have been surprised to find students pursuing ideas and issues beyond lessons with an unanticipated level of enthusiasm.

There is evidence from interviews which shows how students valued engaging in activities with clear links to the outside world and a focus on current events which caught their interest and were meaningful to them (Wallace 1996).

Why use role play?

Role play asks students to step into someone else’s shoes and argue an issue from their point of view. It immerses them in the issue and helps them to develop their cognitive understanding as well as their feelings and values.

Role play helps them to develop a personal meaning and to work out dilemmas with the help of others in the group. A problem is defined, acted out, discussed and conclusions reached in the light of other people’s points of view. Even if there is no final agreement, students are learning that a rationale is needed to justify any point of view. The emotional element in role play contributes to later analysis. The student, who becomes completely wrapped up in a role, learns to appreciate that people’s actions have an emotional as well as a rational content. It is important to realise that in issues that are influenced by attitudes, values and perceptions, the emotional and rational content are often closely intertwined and have to be untangled if students are to evaluate effectively.

Being able to move into a different persona can make it easier for students to consider their own and other people’s views on an issue. The ‘third-party’ experience of taking on and discussing issues within a role provides a safer setting than having to talk directly about a personal experience.

Being asked to take on a role that contradicts their own point of view means that
students have to work out the rationale from another perspective. This is a powerful strategy because they are often willing to discount other people’s perspectives as irrational.

Playing a role involves the whole person. When body, mind and voice are all committed to the activity, students become immersed in a way that most activities do not allow. As a result, their thought processes can become more sensitive to the attitudes of the person whose role they are playing.

The objective of a role-play activity is often to solve a problem that involves both
personal and interpersonal issues. Students are therefore being asked to put a rational construct on personal perspectives. Having to think through arguments from different perspectives prepares students to ‘negotiate, decide and take part responsibly in both school and community based activities’ as the Citizenship Programme of Study requires.

All these ways in which role play can be used help to develop a sense of empathy so students do not just discount other people’s views, issues and values as invalid.

Why work in groups?

Collaborative learning means working together, respecting other people’s points of view and coming to a democratic conclusion. These are all skills that Citizenship aims to develop. As evidence shows that group work enhances learning, there are powerful reasons to use it in the classroom.

Learning democratically

Working in groups helps students to develop a democratic context for learning. By practising making collaborative decisions, students are developing habits that should make the transition to larger scale democratic processes more straightforward.

In Citizenship this might involve coming to a joint conclusion when selecting an
activity to undertake and then deciding who will take each role. Establishing rules for group work provides a framework for such discussion and decision-making.

Developing social skills

Group work facilitates the development of interpersonal intelligence (Gardner 1985) because students have to learn together. This involves negotiating with others who may have a different point of view and coming to conclusions as a group. A group is a small, safe, unit to practise in both for the confident student and others who are less willing to participate. Having watched others contribute to discussion, a less confident student may become more willing to have a go. Peer group pressure also means that individual students take their contribution seriously because they will be letting the group down if they don’t.

Developing cognitive skills

Solving problems is often the objective of group work. To achieve results, students have to work out exactly what they mean and explain concepts and ideas to others.
In Citizenship, arriving at a shared meaning of terms such as rights, responsibilities and fairness, is important if further discussion is to be meaningful.

Providing emotional support

Group work has a motivational effect because students are working together on a common problem. This often creates an environment in which people are prepared to play their part and try out ideas because they feel secure in a smaller community. Where groups are competing with each other or contributing to a whole class activity, the same applies.

In Citizenship a student might be happy to discuss the different identities that make them an individual in the context of a small group but not in a whole class. These identities might include ethnic background, religion, club membership or how they spent their leisure time.

Small group work:
• creates a climate in which students can work with a sense of security and self confidence
• facilitates the growth of understanding by offering the optimum opportunity for students to talk reflectively with each other
• promotes a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect.

(Whitaker 1995)

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